Sunday, September 5, 2010
The first psalm in Tuesday's morning lauds was the eighty-fourth. There was the introductory sentence printed in red: Bliskie jest nasze zbawienie. Close is our salvation. But we do not know what 'close' means when a day may be to God a thousand years.

Afterwards came a canticle from the book of Isaias. I strained my comprehension as we walked, singing that sacred, portentous piece of Scripture. One simple sentence seered itself against my heart as coal burns against flesh:

Moja dusza jest spragniona Ciebie w nocy, mój duch szuka Ciebie w swoim wnętrzu.
My soul is thirsting for Thee throughout the night; my spirit searches for Thee within itself.

I smiled there. Often I have wondered if my religious life was too imbued with romantic indulgence, but such doubts vanish whenever I reflect how inebriated Scripture is with the Love of God.

Kiedy objawiasz ziemi swe wyroki, jej mieszkańcy uczą si
ę sprawiedliwości.
When thou shalt do thy judgments on the earth, the inhabitants of the world shall learn justice.

Justice. I had been told that our first stopping point will be Studzianna-Poświętne. There is a magnificent sanctuary there built in honour of the Holy Family. It is said that the name of the site had been 'Virgin Mountain,' where two young women froze to death rather than risk being outraged by drunken soldiers. Even as Isaias also urges pity for evildoers, my desire for justice is the stronger of the two passions when I hear of such histories.

However, this place is doubly sanctified, for inside the magnificent basilica that loomed before us is enshrined an image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at table. An image before which a stonemason had been healed and at least two others besides.

There were scattered trees about, though fields separate the basilica from the forest. A booklet I purchased at a nearby kiosk informed me that the soil was poor, and there is a belief in Studzianna-Poświętne that
when the forest reaches the walls of the sanctuary, it will be the end of the world.

Too many were present for the general Mass for us to linger, but our group made a narrow procession up the aisle to quickly glimpse the image. Bedecked in gold and silver after the fashion of icons, though artistically it was thoroughly Western, the image was a warm, simple depiction of the Holy Family at table.

Saint Joseph was leaning across the table as a very small Jesus sipped wine from a glass. One shouldn't be shocked, as wine was often mixed with water in Europe for sanitation purposes. Joseph is holding the glass tenderly, so He will not spill it on Himself. Mary however looks on with misgiving.

I believe that her wise, loving, and intuitive heart often saw portents of her Son's coming Passion, and as she watched Jesus's foster father help him drink perhaps she heard echoes of what had not yet been uttered:

My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

And it struck me for the first time that just as Our Lady had to forgive me for the sufferings of Christ, she also had to forgive Joseph.

Bending on my knees in a brief prayer, I quickly joined the procession out. We dropped on the rich, damp grass surrounded by a sparse circle of magnificent trees, and one of the girls smiled at me.

'So you'll tell Father Grzegorz why you came on the pilgrimage today?'

I smiled ruefully, 'I shall try my best.'

She however was enthusiastic. 'It will make us very international to have an American interview on our video.'

'Biało-Czarno-Czerwona is more than international. It is as universal at
the Church herself,' I replied, glad that I was in such company that I could speak my mind without sounding odd, even if I wasn't always comprehensible.

* * *
I was in Eden less than an hour later as we put down our bags in a realm of lush, velvet moss and tall, naked pines, as stately as roman columns. The priests sat in a circumference around a green basin which would have warranted Thomas Cole's attention, while everyone else laid down their karimatas and seated themselves. Finding a spot of shade, I stretched out on the moss itself and found it to be the finest mattress.

It was a moment after this pleasant recline, that Father Grzegorz found me and asked me to explain why I was on the pilgrimage. As soon as he held up his cellphone to record, my thoughts scattered.
Later I was told that my interviews was one of the best. 'You talked for a long time,' one sister pilgrim told me cheerily. I smiled, imagining how my dear ones back home would have laughingly agreed with that remark. I only hoped that what I had said would be translatable, for it had been difficult enough for me to explain myself.

Every part and fibre of me had always longed in some way to make this journey; it was a reflection of my life itself in so many ways. Attempting to give the true reason for it would have been like trying to paint a picture of the world, of all Creation, of What Is. When my family and friends later asked me about the pilgrimage, my first utterance was: 'It was nine days of reality. I had never felt so close to what is real as I did on that sojourn.'

* * *
My feet ached with every step as we strode through the town, nearly every fence bearing a placard with the colours of one group or other. In houses where there was no sign, there were often a group of children waving to us as we passed by. We at last came to the end of the road where before us lay an open field, fringed with verdant beech trees, and beyond their emerald foliage, a magenta sunset. Turning to my left, I saw a great rectangular tower, topped with a cross.

Looking into this imposing edifice, I saw a tiny chapel, swiftly being decked out in scarlet for Mass. As I knelt stiffly and sorely, I did my best to dispel the awareness of my feeble aches with the contemplation of Saint Lawrence's eviscerating agony. The Collect came swiftly to my aid.

Da nobis, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: vitiorum nostrorum flammas exstinguere; qui beato Laurentio tribuisti tormentorum suorum incendia superare. Per Dominum nostrum, Jesum Christum...

Quench in us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the flame of vice, even as Thou didst enable blessed Lawrence to overcome the fire of his sufferings. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ...

Gratias ago.

* * *

Flat plains lay in every direction of the farmhouse where we were staying the night. When I went into the stable for my turn in washing, it had grown quite cold sans tree cover. Upon entering, I was nearly suffocated with the warm heat emanating from the cows. I wondered if the chill of December had been just the right balance to provide the Holy Family at least with a comfortable temperature on the day of the Nativity. It certainly helped me to speed through my washing, which was further prompted by the geese's distaste for my presence.

When I emerged I caught the announcement for Compline in just enough time to grab my breviary. It was a comfort to see the icy crucible of
Studzianna-Poświętne's virgins, and the flaming furnace of Rome's great martyr find their answer in the hymn of the night's hours:

Godzien jest Baranek zabity
wziąć potęgę, moc mądrość i bogactwo,
cześć, chwałę, i błogosławieństwo.

The Lamb that was slain
is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength,
and honour, and glory, and benediction.

I turned my eyes up to the heavens, undimmed by any light of man in this open country. The hazy swirl of our galaxy arched across the ethery dome, scratched with the brilliant death of a meteor here and there, and spread like gossamer across the Northern Cross. Near the cross, was that brilliant, pale sapphire called Vega, ever vigilant at its side.


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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