Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Wounded bodies retreat. The natural reaction of one who is in pain is to curl up, not to sprawl. An affectionate dog becomes an aggressive mongrel when it hurts; snails pull into their shells at the approach of a finger, and all injured animals flee into their hovels, regardless of whom or what is approaching.

Man however is both matter and spirit. As an animal, he keeps his broken arm protectively pinned to his breast. As he is rational, he stretches it vulnerably forth for a physician to examine it. His reason triumphs over his flesh with ease regarding physical pain. It is a much
greater challenge for the wisdom of man's soul to counsel the pains of his heart or the worries of his mind. Worst of all is when that wisdom faulters in itself, and he is plagued by doubts.

No doctor can heal a man, and no teacher can enlighten him. What a doctor can do is remove the splinter, set the limb, or kill the germ. Then the body must reknit its flesh, reunite its bone, or rebuild after the devastation of disease. The medic removes impediments, so the body may heal itself. A teacher may debunk error, construct syllogisms, and demonstrate facts. The student must be attentive and willing for his own reason to truly imbibe the lesson.
Man then can only help man by
prompting; he can never reach into his brother and assist him directly. That must be a thing his brother does for himself.

This truth applies to the healing properties of the rest of creation. As I look out at a clear sky with the bright hue of a robin's egg, at the silvery green of trees just budding forth, feel the warmth of the sun through my window and the crisp breeze wisping through the room, I am thoroughly aware of the fact that were I miserable, these things would be give me no delight.

I may offer a piece of cake to a man grouchy about the traffic, not to a
man whose car has been stolen. Sunshine gladdens the heart after winter, not after the destruction of one's home. The sudden appearance of a Mandarin Duck beneath the bushes by the canal is uplifting on a dull day, not after the death of a loved one. In fact, wed with grief, these erstwhile joyous things but exacerbate pain. A tragedy occurring in the Christmas season is worse for that fact.

Yet, when pain so engulfed me last autumn that I felt my soul had been cloven in two from crown to toe, I found myself inexplicably soothed as I lay on the stiff mattress of a hostel in Kraków. The trumpet rang out from the basilica, at first melodiously intoning the Marian hymn and then
dying abruptly. I breathed out a sigh and went gladly to sleep.

The next day found me on my knees in the Adoration Chapel of the Franciscan Church--the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows. It glowed from the light of the arched windows, glaringly white and opaque
but for a colourful image set in the middle, each one depicting one of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. The walls by contrast were comfortingly dark and lushly decorated. Skies of midnight blue and studded with gold stars spread across the low, vaulted ceiling. Vines of flowers and ivy crept up the walls in deep shades of green, purple, and red. One might have been in the Garden of Gethsemane. And behind the resplendent, gold monstrance, was an image of the Virgin Mother. Her posture was neither straight, nor bending. Her form leaned away as if startled or repelled. The spirit, however, rejected the instinct of the flesh, and so her neck remained submissively bent. Her eyes were as red as blood, and two inexhaustible streams of tears poured forth from those swollen orbs. Her hands were in prayer, though barely pressed together, the fingers hardly touching one another, as if it exhausted her strength to raise her arms but that high.

I had hoped for an answer in that chapel. I received none, and like a surly child, I attempted to resist consolation. No, I would sorrow if I could not have what I asked for, and guidance did not seem like such a great boon to crave anyhow. Yet, as I gazed at her, and then at the Host, I felt my burdens ease, even against my will. For all things in this passing life give us but transient joys and pains. The sheep may desire the Shepherd to fill their trough with water, to be
comforted by its steady supply, but if He comes to them one by one with nothing but a cup in His hand, this must be accepted.

Yet, I felt urged again to rebel.

'O Lord, give me enough to be satiated!'

'Nay, you shall have but enough to go on.'

Yet, I did not wish to go on feeling as I did. The self within me wanted to dash that insulting little cup to earth. Give me a stream of life, not a thimble! But I looked at her again. Emptied of strength and being emptied further still, she stood in a posture of prayer.
She opened not her mouth to curse nor to sob, but with pressed lips and pressed palms, wept before the Passion of Our Lord.

I heard the congregation rising in the main body of the church, and the Communion hymn was intoned. I wrung my hands and wondered if should I receive the Body and Blood. I felt devastated, frustrated, and indignant. But I did not feel alone. And like most sulky children, all I truly wanted was for my parents to come find me in my shadowy corner and plead with me to come out. But they could only beg me; they could not make me open my arms to them like and automaton and spring forth from my gloom. I could drink the cup the Shepherd offered and trudge further up the mount, hoping for more draughts along the way, or I could perish of thirst in the barren ravine with only my pride for company.

Communion would be over soon if I did not hurry, so with the embarrassment of a difficult relative who at last decides to attend the party, I hurried out to receive my Lover in the guise of Bread.

Since that painful episode I have received my answer, though it was an arduous journey to attain it. As the Triduum approaches, those of us who are happy must prepare to reflect on pain. Those of us who are miserable must strive to unite our woes with those of God. Easter is not a
holiday that rushes on us, attempting to twist our hearts and minds to adjust to its mood. This solemn occasion bends the whole of the earth unto itself, drawing us out of our personal lives into its mysteries. Its commerical delights are not strong enough or distracting enough to drown its importance as, alas, is the case with many souls concerning Christmas. Easter's plunge into the abyss of misery is deep enough to pull any soul out of its gloom and into the light of the Resurrection.

On the Great Night forthcoming, the true Healer and the true Teacher is yearning to right your soul. If the day itself is the only
consolation offered, do not resist, weary pilgrim. Do not curl up your limbs and hide your wounded self. Quench the cup, and march onward. If you do not find your answer, you will always have the Answer.

Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia: Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia. Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, Alleluia,

R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.


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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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