Monday, August 29, 2011

To date, I can only recall one instance where the 'First Lady' of theologians, Alice Von Hildebrand, faltered in an argument. It was in an essay wherein she lamented the loss of piety, and spoke of the hurt it caused the older generations to see irreverence in the young and a total disregard for the traditions handed down to them.

Though this holds true in her case, it is not so in many others. While traditionalists are certainly still a minority, those of the younger generation are not only more likely to tolerate tradition, but to be traditionalists themselves. It was an elderly woman, in linen trousers and a T-shirt no less, that once confronted me
after Mass for wearing a veil. It was only from the lips of an old priest that I heard believing in transignification was just as orthodox as espousing Transubstantiation.

This is not my experience alone but that of many in my age group. For some reason, the older spectrums of society chose to let tradition (amongst other things) go. Either they did not forsee the forthcoming devolution of our society, or they desired it.

It should not have been a surprise then, when queuing for coffee at the sanctuary of Paradyż, a friend from another group told me that an elderly lady had been bemused by what our group sang on entering the town.

'Christus Vincit?' I replied, 'Why was she puzzled?'

'She was wondering why you weren't singing in Polish.'

'But we were singing in Latin! The universal tongue
of the Church.'

Maria spared a commiserating smile for me from her end of the queue, though she could not join in the interchange.
'I don't think she knew it was Latin,' my friend replied.

'Even though she's old enough to remember when Mass was said in Latin,' I mused and then claimed my java.

Sitting on the lawn before the wall of the former monastery, I drank my coffee and shared some Oreos with O. We would have to wait an hour before our group could have its turn in the church, the common Mass being now underway. This might have given a reasonable occasion for my friend to ask (though she didn't) why we would upset our walking schedule in order to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. And indeed, it would later mean skipping a rest stop and plodding on through 6.5 hot miles

This seemed like the proper moment to sort out a particular question in my mind: 'Dlaczego biały-czarny-czerwony?' I had been asked the question why I was on pilgrimage many times the year before, as were others, and some even answered it on video. Apparently many pilgrims were asked the question this year as to why they chose this particular group. After Mass, as we began walking through the fields over tall grasses softly beaten down at
the base so that they resembled a jade, pleated gown, the answer slowly came to me.

Once, two good men were debating the issue of attending the old Mass (at table of course). It was not a hateful dispute, but it was aggressive. Finally, the traditionalist ended as the victor by saying: 'Let's agree to disagree. You worship God your way, and I'll worship God His way.'

I don't usually approve of using wit to conclude an argument, as it has the air of a 'jade's trick', but occasionally repartee does cut an aimless debate short, or in this case, present the truth in a succinct, incontestable manner.

The Novus Ordo was not cultivated over a vast expanse of time, but mushroomed comparitively overnight, crafted by significantly fewer architects than the Extraordinary Form. It left plenty of leeway for different nations, cultures, and communities to adapt it to their particular needs. So they have. A non-Catholic attending the liturgical dancing Masses of the Los Angeles cathedral would not identify it as the same ceremony and Sacrament celebrated in the chapel of Thomas Aquinas College, only 60 miles away. The possibility for great beauty and great ugliness is the trouble with the new Mass, valid though it is. Its structure allows any parish to trim, tone, and and tailor it to the taste and desires of the congregation.

Yet, anyone who has led a group of some sort would readily observe that in trying to please everyone, one
often pleases no one (or certainly not the majority). Thus, one often finds that the typical Novus Ordo conducted in a parish church is one dominated by the personality of the choir parish secretary (very rarely by the priest's) and attended by a mixture of cafeteria and practicing Catholics who endure the bad music and ugly display for either the sake of fellowship or the Eucharist.

At my former college, the Mass was celebrated with solemn piety, accompanied by beautiful music, and prayed entirely in Latin, but for the Scriptural readings. Yet, it was the charism of the school, the conviction of the chaplains, and the desire of the students that made the Mass to be what it is. We had moulded it to fit our spiritual needs--moulded rightly--but
nevertheless we had introduced our own modifications.

There is much to be said for making the case that the Novus Ordo was never propogated as it was meant to be, that it had been hijacked by Leftist elements in the Church and diverted into something that shocked and bewildered the world, Catholic and non-Catholics alike. Yet, even granting this subterfuge, it remains that the Mass's new stucture did lay itself open to the abuses that flooded in.

However, the beautiful, finely delineated form of the Tridentine Mass does not allow it to be a laughingstock. Whether it is gloriously accompanied by a schola, offered as a dialogue Mass, or even said silently, it remains a way of offering the sacrifice that is not our way, but the Church Universal's. It exalts man in appealing to that which is best in him, but it also humbles by forcing him to approach God on conditions other than his own.

Occasionally, this chastens rather than consoles. The first time I attended an old Mass, wherein the priest offered it in hushed whispers, I was so bewildered I was nearly in tears. 'I can hardly tell what page I should be on in my missal! Why is the priest praying so fast? How do I even know he's uttering the right words at consecration?'

I was willing to concede every argument made against the old Mass after this experience, until I attended it again. I found that even though I occasionally could not keep pace right with the priest or always know exactly what he said at a particular moment (which is a problem that time and practice will resolve), I was always aware of the immense thing that was happening.

Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee: in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps (Psalm LXXXIII:6)

Ascending the steps to the high altar, uniting himself with the congregation by gazing in the same direction, his face turned to God, the priest parts the tent of the Holy of Holies and draws us into the Lord's presence, bringing Him to us on His terms and not ours. This form is the fruit of centuries, of many generations, and crafted by many. Its majesty may box our pert young ears at first, but as we grow accustomed to its discipline, we find that the universality of this rite renders it all the more personal. Hence, my preference:

Hear the Black
Watch the Red

Concerning the 'white, black, and red' group, I would say its defining charism is its devotion to the Extraordinary Form and to Polish patriotism. One may ask why these elements are necessary on a pilgrimage though. Isn't this a good time to rest from conventional
worship and rejoice in the energy other methods may offer? As one who has drawn spiritual consolation from such sources as U2 and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I cannot sneer at such a statement. Still, I must deny it. No, that sort of devotion is not the most fitting on a pilgrimage.

The reason for this is due to the very essence of a pilgrimage. It is a unique prayer, a journey set apart, because it mirrors our earthly life in a perfect allegory. Consider the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas before Holy Communion:

...O most loving Father, grant that I may one day come to contemplate face to face Thy beloved Son, whom now on my pilgrimage I receive under a sacramental veil...

Note that the Angelic doctor does not preface 'pilgrimage' with any adjective to qualify the term. He flatly states that this life is a pilgrimage, and any temporal journey we undertake that happens to fit the definition in a lexicon is but a reflection of the real pilgrimage. I grow tedious now, but I must repeat what I said a year ago: that these nine days of pilgrimage were nine days of reality.

So, first, the Mass immemorial was offered everyday--our moment of contemplation and foretaste of Heaven. Here the group reminded us of that for which we pined on this earth. Second, the devotion to hearth and home, to the nation of the people footing this march, reinforced in those walking the sense of where their temporal duties lay, of their duties to the Church Militant before God called them to join the Church Triumphant.

Clouds of dust were choking our path by the day's end, when suddenly (it always seemed suddenly) we came upon our resting place, and off of that dirt road. Washing the grit from my face later, I had to smile at the concrete symbol of this sojourn's conclusion:

...For dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Genesis III:19) 

Thank you Marzena/Basia!
Friday, August 26, 2011
A long day again, but this time we were all prepared to deal with the distance. However, the cold, windy weather came as a bit of an unpleasant surprise.

On the pilgrimage the year before I had packed a number of 'just in case' items in order to be scout-wise prepared. I had foregone such preparations this time in order to travel more lightly, and I paid for it that night by hardly sleeping through the chill in my light summer pyjamas. Very wise, Rachela. In any case it was all for the best as it made it easier to get up to help with breakfast--something I had meant to do more often this time around.

The Biblical incident between Mary and Martha had always disturbed me as a child. Jesus had to eat, did He not? Why was Mary to have the 'better part' and Martha not? Concerning that particular situation, the answer became easier as I grew older. Martha was not as keen on listening to Jesus as her sister; Holy Scripture makes it clear that her mind and her worries were mainly focused on the practical, concrete ways of serving Him. But I don't think such could be said of those who nobly performed the role of Martha in our group; they were every bit as contemplative as the Marys.

Realizing that I
myself could not attend Mass that morning made me smart. How much more so did it hurt those who could not walk with us on the day's route, because they were busy preparing supper or pitching tents to help the rest of us? These things had to be done, but they were carried out in the spirit of sacrifice, not because it was was these pilgrims preferred to do. That insurmountable wall between the realm of action and of contemplation will always trouble me to some degree. Though I know both charisms are noble, they still separate the lives of human beings from one another. We are not in Paradise, yet.

4.3 miles later, we were in Studzianna. Perhaps I should have tried wearing my grey hoody on the way, but the wretched thing had still been so damp that I did not think it would have been ver good for me. My 'babcia' kerchief (as a brother pilgrim had dubbed it the year before) was about my neck as a scarf, and I wore my rucksack in front of my body, rather than on my back, in an effort to keep warm. Everyone about me looked dressed for November rather than August. Global warming, you know?

Having once again knelt before the Sacrament there, and gazing on that sweet image of the Holy Family, we made our rest amidst the circle of trees nearby. Now that we had stopped walking, the cold grew worse. The wind also would not abate. I sat next to Ola, and we huddled together as we chatted (or rather I listened) with our brothers and sisters crouching about us.

There are seven people in this picture, where is the seventh? :)

One sister, a woman of mature beauty with mahogany hair hanging in two thick braids, leaned towards me offering a vest. I gladly accepted her kindness.  And as my kerchief had travelled from my neck to my head when we had entered the church, she also offered me a beautiful silk scarf with a sylvan pattern of blue and green. She then spoke, and Ola translated, about a dream that she had had while on a retreat.

In this dream, she had heard a male voice singing something in a beautiful melody, which she remembered on waking. She wrote devotional words to accompany it, and promised that she would teach it to the group as we progressed. She sang it for us then, too. Her natural voice was rich and deep, and the tune bore that air of slumber more wise than waking. I planned on finding her alone later, so that I might both have the words to her song and the opportunity to return her scarf. But she left the pilgrimage before the end, and I was unable to accomplish either end, though in a later message, she told me the scarf was a gift.
On we marched, and though the day improved, with the temperature growing a little warmer due to a light fall of misty rain, matters grew worse for others. Unfortunately, this day got many people a little sick. Yet, it was beautiful! The silver veil hanging between the parted trees above the velvet carpet of emerald moss everywhere we march produced such lush mystique, and I was sure that the sun would requite us for his absence in the coming days of the pilgrimage.

Marching down those long, unbending lanes close to our destination was certainly the longest stretch, so I cannot say I missed the sun in this interim. Our spirits were certainly bristled up, and it was a good thing, for when we entered the town we encountered the usual
crowd of well-wishers waving good-naturedly to us. 
Thank you Marzena!

One amongst them was a very
young boy sitting on his father's lap. He looked at us from one to another as we passed, and then cried out in that incredible volume which mature vocal chords have lost: 'Was śpiewajcie mnie! Was śpiewajcie mnie!' (Y'all, sing to me!) After a hearty laugh, our cantor warmed up his majestic baritone and led us in a rousing hymn for the final leg of the journey.

Religijne - My chcemy Boga

We arrived at the same lovely farmstead where we had stayed the year before. Not being my normal, filthy self at the end of that day, I opted not to wash in the sultry stable as I had the year before. I was exulting in the freedom of only having to wash my hair, when I brought up my head and saw two young girls watching me.

Seizing an opportunity to practice my Polish with easy-going listeners, I asked them their names.

'We're K. and M. Are you from Warszawa?'

'Yes, I live there, but I come from the USA--from Tennessee.'

I was immediately peppered with questions, and we got on like a house on fire. Their grandmother came by a moment later, and I got to chat with her as well.

'So are you single?' she asked.

Thanks Basia and/or Marzena!

'Yes,' I answered, mischievously toying with the idea of asking if she had someone to spare. I don't know if her granddaughter and the little girl's friend connived at it, but later the ladies were treated to a hair dryer for our wet heads, which was more than a blessing as the temperature continued to drop. I did feel a trifle guilty for the modern convenience, but if the gentlemen can do that (see right:), surely a little blow-drying is not decadence?

K. swiftly became my little friend. I was delighted that she wanted to sing Compline with us, and we shared my breviary together over the wan light. Later, it was time to visit the port-o-potty. 'You could go to the bathroom in our house,' she offered.

'Sweetheart, [sometimes English diminutives cannot be dispensed with] if I did that, then everyone else would have to be able to go, too.'

So, instead she stayed with me while I waited in line. It was growing cold again, and as I stood bereft of my hoody, I asked K. to play 'Simon mowi' with me. She eagerly took up the sole duty of being 'Simon' and proceeded to order me about, giving me warming, active orders.

It is one of the lovely things about making a pilgrimage, a retreat, or giving one's self up to any occasion out of the routine order that we may forgo artificial normalities. So it was not strange when K. told me to hug the person in front of me or dance with the brother pilgrim standing three places back. Not even when she had us all links hands and dance together did anything seem odd. There was no one to witness our joviality but the wide stretch of indigo Heaven above us. And when I went to sleep that night, I did not mind the chill.

One's stance on capitol punishment is legitimately debatable. Does a rapist deserve death? Undoubtedly. Should the state execute a rapist? Perhaps. But the child that may be begotten by the criminal should never be the object of retribution. Never!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Boo!" M. shouted at me as I left the barn. I stopped and clutched my heart with a gasp, though I could not give him the same satisfying yelp that I had the day before. He and his sister, taking me by the hand, had told me that a dragon was slumbering in the cellar of the farmhouse.

'Naprawdę?' I asked, eagerly accompanying them. Alas, I shall always be more keen on childlike games of make-believe then adult pastimes such as cards. The light had been beginning to fade, and the cellar was appropriately black and dark, though at the end of the corridor, I could see our hardy traffic directors laying down their sleeping places for the night. 'Er, I don't think I should come in here,' I told O., her brother having disappeared, 'This is a room for the men.'

'The dragon is in here,' she said, gesturing towards an alcove on the left. I obediently put my head in, ready to conjure in my head my own image of scaly creature avariciously clutching its bed of gold with two slender threads of smoke rising from its nostrils....'BOO!' Well, instead of my imaginary dragon, I was greeted with a real boy, and he was rewarded with a genuine yelp on my part. From that day, we had our game of 'boo' where M. or O. would cry it, and I would feign shock, which later became fainting. Surely that's not a wicked distraction?

It was going to be another light day, a little over 16 miles, and I made sure to tell Cl. Krszysztof that if he had a free moment, I would love to hear the end of his conference whenever he had a free moment. I also had a question for him. The call to leave presently came, and again I departed with tea still warm in my tin cup. As we left, a farmwife opened the gates of her stable and a team of fine, heavy horses, honey-toned bays with golden manes and tails, came trotting out in a dignified prance. Looking neither to the left, nor the right, they made straight for the pastures. 'They know where to go,' one sister pilgrim commented as we admired them together.

'If only the children of men could be like that,'
I thought automatically, then chided myself. Many sons of Adam and daughters of Eve had surpassed the animals in obedience and humble cooperation, such as St. Lawrence, whose feastday's vigil we had celebrated that morning. The Offertory now sounded again in my mind:

Oratio mea munda est: et ídeo peto ut detur locus voci me­æ in cœlo: quia ibi est judex meus, et cónscius meus in excélsis: ascéndat as Dóminum deprecátio mea. (Job XVI: 20)

Then I thought of the 'New City' on the river, which would be our second stop for the day. I longed to again see the church where Blessed Honorat Koźmiński had done his great work (and to buy a new scapular from the religious articles shop across the street). How divergent were the destinies of saints, one roasted on a spit as a witness to mankind, and the other secretly labouring to save souls from the cell of a confessional.

The weather showed signs of more varying fickleness throughout the day. Shade actually brought shivers to some, while the sun was suitably sweltering. We left our second stop in that sun though with smiles on our faces. Well, I was determined to smile anyhow. I just had spoken with a man from another group, a congenial economist with broad-minded views, and had learned that the Biało-Czarno-Czerwona group had the reputation that I should have (from experience) expected a traditional group to have : smutna grupa (sad group).

That pricked me, for although I have known many traditionalists who qualified as gloomy extremists, no one in our group fit that bill in the slightest. In fact, some of us weren't traditionalists, and those who were were the evangelical sort. E.g., the moment I chose to wear the veil at all Masses (including the Novus Ordo), I made it my endeavour to always look very cheerful, so as not to scandalize the more 'mainstream' Catholics into thinking tradition was something gloomy. The same could certainly be said of the other pilgrims in our group. The beautiful ladies did not wear sacks on the pilgrimage. The children walking with us were not browbeaten, and the men were hardly domineering (Piotr, one of the traffic directors, only told me to pick up the pace once this year :). And if we often sang Ad mortem festinamus, we also sang Czarno there!

We turned off the main road and towards the woods. Today we had the Way of the Cross, but our way was remarkably easy on the asphalt when compared to the deep, loose sand of the route the year before.

This time, I did not meditate on the Stations of the Cross in my own missal, but tried to follow the prayers which the group employed as a whole. To this day I have not found the form employed that afternoon,
but perhaps next year I shall have enough Polish to understand it perfectly.

When the Way of the Cross was concluded and we were off at our natural pace again, Cl. Krzysztof found me and took up his sermon on vocations again. In the warmth of the sun and his optimism, I found myself revisiting that cold day in Kraków again.

(Thank you, Anita K. for the picture! ;)
That wintry morning in Poland's old capitol, I had run as fast as I could to the Wawel Cathedral for the Latin Mass. There was a narrow window of time before my train would leave for Radom, and what's more I only had my old Roman Missal, so I would not have understood the Scriptures read in a Novus Ordo Mass. Sadly, when I arrived panting at the entrance, clutching a painful stitch in my left side, I saw that the schedule I had read on the Internet disagreed with the actual time. Mass had started some time ago and was too far progressed for me to take Holy Communion.

Many may smile at my irrationality, and in retrospect, I laugh at it
myself, but I was furious and hurt. Being thwarted in attending Mass is a disappointment that my nature always takes very personally, now I would have to strike out and find another where I would not understand the readings of the Bible. I looked down from the battlements of the Wawel over that fair city--so cold, grey, and hard in the icy grip of January. Some moments can seem so insignificant to an outsider, but this was the moment (prepared by both what I had read and learned with experience), the precise moment where my faith in personal providence withered. It was as if an abyss was yawning before me, and a clotted talon of a demon was pressing itself into the flesh of my heart. I had shaken my head and determined to ignore it, but from that day on, an unwilling agnosticism had taken up its abode in me.

But this day was not cold, and the seminarian spoke words that I loved and wished dearly to be true. However, my impertinent reason was not yet moved, and when he asked whether I had a question, I put a dilemma before him. It had been one of my own, but was abstracted from my particulars into a universal problem, and it had been a situation to which I was sure there was no answer.

He pondered a moment, and then he began to speak. Anyone who has jarred a glass of water sitting in a ice-box will note that the freezing transition is so immediate it dazzles the mind. Thawing of ice is much slower, yet when the salt of Heaven touches a glacier, the collapse of that edifice may well be more awe-inspiring than the freeze which created it.

I had not anticipated that Cl. Krzysztof's words would so identically mirror the still, small voice that had so often spoken to me. That his words could be so pertinent to me in particular was stupefying, and that I found a part of my soul begin to wake again, was too much. It was if the road to Częstochowa had unveiled itself as the road to Emmaus and the fair-headed seminarian in black next to me had been revealed as the dark Rabbi in white. May God bless his vocation!

The day gently declined, and we weary travellers soon found ourselves at the campsite. No barns tonight. I was laying down my mat when a sister pilgrim asked me a question, to which I responded in Polish, peppered with English for each word I could not articulate. I turned around and saw a new face that had been unpacking next to me. She smiled. 'Are you Rachel?'


'Hello, I'm Maria! Our friend in common, Piotrek L., told me about you.'

'Oh, Heaven only knows what that means,' I thought, but the communiqué could not have been too bad, as Maria and I were soon getting on splendidly. She is Slovakian and blessed with enviable linguistic skills, so communication was certainly no problem.

We determined on setting out for the river to bathe (though seeing how devoid of cover the bank was, we ended up taking our washing bowls into the forest). The way back to camp was under a gloriously illumined sky, and the pilgrims were again blessed with a most splendid sunset. I remember admiring just such a twilight the year before.

Supper was also special, with even a desert of gingerbread and cinnamon cookies after the fact. Maria and I were both wondering what the occasion was, when Father Grzegorz took the 

And thank you Marzena!

microphone and informed us that it was Cl. Krzysztof's birthday.

Had no one known that Father Grzegorz, Krzysztof, and Adam Ś. were brothers, they would certainly have seen the fact within minutes. The priest's praise of his younger brother, the seminarian's humble anguish at being praised, and the layman's good-natured wisecracking were as evident a display of the bond of kinship as an illustrated family tree.

Darkness came, as did the time for Compline. As the air grew colder, I felt chill down my spine at the verse we read. Such a frightening one in many ways, yet it is one of my favourites, especially as it is the first Pope quoting Christ directly:

Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. (I Peter V: 8-9)

Reading that chapter again, I also see now how the two preceding verses spoke to me (and who knows how many others) in the most intimate way
that day:
Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation: Casting all your care upon Him, for He hath care of you.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Sing 'hey' for the java at break of day,
that washes the fog and grouch away,

A nut is he that will not sing,

O! coffee hot, is a blessed thing!

O! fair is the sight o' rising sun,

and crystal cobwebs on the bloom,
but better than webs or sun so round,

is coffee bean only just ground!

O! the shower fresh will perk indeed,
and spiffy us up just for our need,

but better are baths if we have time,

and down our throats, coffee so sublime!

O! juice is good for all babies,

and beer wet-nurses philosophies,

but ne'er did fruit or drink ferment,
surpass a good cup of java blend!

I shall return to the pilgrimage presently! This is but a brief respite. Oh, and naturally, this song is meant to be sung to whatever tune you can come up with (or have listened to) that goes with Tolkien's marvellous 'Bath Song.' And
do let us all give thanks for the best part of waking up. I shall admit that when I go to bed at night, I dream happily thinking I shall get to drink coffee in the morning.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I awoke happy to find that none of the storm had leaked through the barn roof onto my sleeping bag, but not so happy to not find my scapular around my neck. Sitting up with a start I began undoing my plait to see if it was entangled in my hair, wondering with a panic what I had done with it. Had I taken it off when washing? Oh yes, I had! I scampered over to a shadowy corner in the barn that the ladies had made into an improptu bathing closet, but my old, brown scapular was not there. 'Condemnation!' I hissed, as I were a convalescent with a fractured vertebrae who could not find her neck-brace.
I set to packing, hoping it would emerge somewhere amongst the things I was stuffing into my big bag. I shook my sleeping bag and mat and dissected the straw I had placed under it for a mattress. Nothing. 'May it bless whoever finds it,' I forced myself to whisper, all the while moaning in my head about how wretchedly foolish I was for having lost it and (I had not yet had my tea) how stupid the world was for having let me lose it. After all, it is an Aristotelian's prerogative to attribute vitalist motives to everything in existence, so something had to have it in for me.

When we were on the road again, I felt rather like the wedding guest who arrived without the proper garment. Indeed, my inward sense of self-consciousness could not have been much stronger.

'You have but to purchase a new one, and you'll be able to do that tomorrow.'

Tomorrow? 'Well, I'll just have to pray hard until tomorrow,' I thought, sipping my cup of earl grey.

Father Grzegorz announced that Matins would presently commence. I threw out the remainder of the tea and dove into my backpack for my breviary.

The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception followed. After the initial hymn, the cantor intoned the prayer. I did not understand every word of it in the Polish, but I was eased by the gist:

Holy Mary, Queen of heaven, Święta Maryjo, Królowo niebieska,
Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, Matko Pana naszego Jezusa Chrystusa
and Mistress of the world, i Pani świata,
who forsakest no one, która nikogo nie opuszczasz
and despiseth no one; i nikim nie gardzisz,
look upon me, O Lady, wejrzyj na nas, Pani nasza,
with an eye of pity, łaskawym okiem miłosierdzia swego
and entreat for me, i uproś nam
of thy beloved Son, u Syna swego miłego
the forgiveness of all my sins odpuszczenie wszystkich grzechów naszych
that as I now celebrate with devout affection abyśmy, którzy teraz
thy holy, Immaculate Conception, święte Twoje Niepokalane Poczęcie
so, hereafter, nabożnym sercem rozpamiętywamy,
I may receive the prize of eternal blessedness, wiecznego błogosławieństwa zapłatę w niebie otrzymać mogli
by the grace of Him Whom thou co niechaj da Ten, któregoś Ty o Panno,
in virginity didst bring forth, porodziła, Syn Twój,
Jesus Christ our Lord: a Pan nasz Jezus Chrystus,

Who, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, który z Ojcem i Duchem Świętym
liveth and reigneth, żyje i króluje
in perfect Trinity, God, w Trójcy Świętej jedyny, Bóg
world without end. na wieki wieków.

The temporary deprivation of my scapular would do me no harm. A mile later, I looked up and there was the statue of the Sacred Heart at the entrance to the pheasant farm. We were nearing the ruined manor again! Alas, though, why must the pedestal of His statue be pink?

As we made our way to our green resting place, the treat of real coffee was awaiting us on a small table. Granted, by the time I got to it there was but a gulp left, but it was still theobrama! I caught amazed whispers that the java was 'electric' (the Polish term for spiked), but if it were, I am sure it was but for purposes of fortification.

Thank you, Marzena!
The manor's chapel remained as well preserved as it had been the year before, and I finally got to ask someone if it had remained consecrated.
'It must be,' Ola told me, 'A priest comes here to say Mass every now and then. The manor is ruined, but the chapel is still in use.' I felt shivers down my spine as she spoke. The ruined manor and the living chapel, a fitting metaphor for Christendom itself.
Thank you again!

We had the pleasant green shade to ourselves, as the other groups were to pass on for Mass in Przybyszew, and we were to have ours at the day's destination. Of course, it meant a longer walk before the next break, but doesn't every pilgrim prefer alternate fasting and feasting to a comfortable, unvarying mediocrity?

It did make lunch all the more delightful by the time we arrived, and little O., with her honey-coloured hair flowing well past her waist in errant wisps, was smiling to greet us with a large bag of plums. Soup and pasta followed--the second rest.

M. had also approached me in the meanwhile, proudly informing me that the Evangelist Luke had painted the image we were to visit along with more interesting facts about the Black Madonna. I listened to his lesson with pleasure. It is important to allow children to be teachers, especially boys, and I genuinely appreciated his concern that perhaps my questionable grasp of Polish warranted things being repeated to me slowly and simply in that tongue.

Someone else had the same thought. Father Grzegorz's brother, a seminarian named Krzysztof, kindly approached me towards the end of
the break and asked if I understood the conferences that were being given while we marched. I blushed and had to admit that abstract homilies and sermons were still beyond my reach. He offered to deliver one of his to me personally. I eagerly assented, hoping the occasion would be useful practice for his linguistic skills as well as edifying for me. Then came the topic of the conference: vocations.

I stiffened inwardly, yet I did not want to tell this warm cleric that I had grown unwillingly skeptical of the idea that every soul on earth served as a thread in a luscious tapestry, each with a purpose to perform in the story being told. While I knew there was a purpose to each life, I was not convinced that each soul had a destiny.

Still I wanted to hear him. I am generally agnostic even in my skepticism, and whether I could take Cl. Krzysztof's thesis to heart or not, it would still be a lesson in humility to listen. Thus, I told him sincerely that I would gladly take his instruction. However, as the group's traffic directors herded us together for departure, my mind momentarily drifted from the heat of the summer sun that day and back two and a half years to a frigid stay in wintry Kraków and to the thoughts encircling me at that time.

Having reached definite conclusions regarding my profession, not all of them the most uplifting, I had turned my thoughts in earnest to discerning a vocation. As I read through saints and scholars on the issue, I was sent a sermon (written by a very trustworthy priest) concerning the matter. This would be the work that would greatly shake my belief that God had a unique plan for my life.

In this essay, the priest asserted those who were waiting for a divine call or looking for signs as to their state in life were in fact indulging in the heresy of Quietism. 'Discerning one's vocation is this simple,' he stated, 'The married life is higher than the single life, and the religious life is higher than the married life. These are our only rules, and whenever possible, one should encourage a searching soul to the higher calling. One must not passively expect God to endow him with understanding as to some situation He means for him. We have free will and God expects us to use it. One is not meant for way of life or the other; it is a choice.'

Was that all then? Was there to be no guiding light, burst of feeling or steadfast joy to indicate the mode of life where a soul may best serve God? Both the orthodoxy of the priest and the fact this world is a 'vale of tears' gave me great cause to ponder whether my life may very well be more desultory than I had hoped. Old doubts reawakened, and
while my reason oscillated between pessimism and realism, my heart, if not my soul as well, fell into the grip of a sort of agnosticism. I tried to will myself to believe otherwise, but no number of visits to the confessional could release me from that conviction that there was no path set out for me to follow, merely a tangled thicket through which I must haphazardly hack.
And yet, paradoxically, there was still a small voice inside of me saying that my grim supposition was mistaken, and one day I would be proven wrong. Still, I had not embarked on the pilgrimage this time for any answers, only to obtain the peace to stop asking and to listen instead. I could not have guessed that this prayer might actually be answered nor could I have expected what I would hear from Cl. Krzysztof the next day (our lesson being postponed as he encountered acquaintances of his en route).

We arrived swiftly in Michałowice with plenty of time to wash clothes and let them air in the sun. Mass was sublime with the choir singing from the renovated loft, and the church itself was half finished! Many pilgrims from Warszawa came to join us, swelling our ranks.

and again!
The day closed beautifully with softly falling rain, causing us again to huddle together in the dryness of the barn for supper and Compline. Yet, the grey gave way to a hue of the most brilliant coral rose in the west, and all who were drawn out by it were rewarded by a vision of a most exquisite, rainbow--the brightest and most complete arc that I had ever beheld.

And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I give between me and you, and to every living soul that is with you, for perpetual generations. I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth. And when I shall cover the sky with clouds, my bow shall appear in the clouds: And I will remember my covenant with you, and with every living soul that beareth flesh: and there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.
(Genesis: IX, 12-15)
Sunday, August 21, 2011

It was St. Cajetan's feastday again, and it would unfold well nigh identically to the year before. It would begin with a pleasant morning cool that in spite of our newly broken-in feet, we would embrace with gusto, stopping for a pleasant second breakfast on the way. Later, the heat would be scorching one of our longest routes (22 miles that day), and in spite of my best efforts (more food and more hydration than the year before), I would still nearly faint in the church of Goszczyn during Mass, though knowing what was happening that time, I remained for Holy Communion. Aï! It would appear that what is past is indeed prologue.

Still, even if events do not change, we do. I cannot speak for the whole group, but as the heat intensified, those around me seemed to grow more silent, turning their thoughts towards personal ruminations of their own choosing. That is certainly what I did, and I found myself thinking more fervently than ever of Brother Cajetan Gavronich.

All those of the Slavic tongue would be amused at my family's American way of saying our dear friend's name, /Kædʒetæn Gævrənɪtʃ/, but the homeliness of the pronunciation suited what he was in life. He was like an immortal ray from the moon momentarily imprisoned in flesh, yet never varying according to the flesh. I knew him when he was old, and from the first
day to the last, his face was as smiling and unwrinkled as that of a child's. His spirit was as energetic and joyful, yet he was as selfless and giving as a column of the Earth. He had a massive impact on my spiritual life, and he was forever entangled with my personal devotion to the Church, so I found myself that day thinking more of the second Saint Cajetan than the first. And a saint he is indeed.

I met him when my mother took me as a little girl to say rosaries outside the now vanquished abortion mill of our city. He was the only cleric of the group that I remember ever being there, an Alexian brother not allowed to bury the victims of that place, but at least piously rendering them recognition. At that time, he was but to me a nice, old man, who I remember giving me holy cards of Saint Faustina Kowalska and who instructed
me concerning the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Rosaries would become the Koronka do Miłosierdzia Bożego if Protestants should come to join us in prayer for an end to abortion. They could not say an Ave perhaps, but they could ask God for mercy. They even swallowed their scruples in repeating the request over and over again. I suppose that is when the seed was planted in me, which would one day become a vine, pulling me
into Poland. Yet, devotion to Our Lady of Częstochowa had not yet been instilled. That came later.

My mother and Brother Cajetan had a great deal in common on the grounds of promoting the Gospel of Life over the Culture of Death, but there was more to the intellectual nature of their friendship. At the age of twelve, I was soon to be acquainted with the word 'geopolitical.' That year, my mother gave me a book she had bought years before, one with a title that had always intrigued me: The Keys of This Blood, to read for my history class that year (I was homeschooled from twelve to seventeen). Whenever she and Brother Cajetan met, there was often an exchange of taped interviews and books by the same author, and so I came to have the greatest faith in--and personal attachment to--the man who would become my spiritual father, Malachi Martin, S.J.

It was this Irish priest who introduced the 'Primate of the Millenium' to my family, and as my child's mind was beginning to comprehend the diabolic, global political and social mechanisms in place against all that I held most dear, it was to these words of Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński that I clung:

Certain historical developments are willed by the Lord of History, and they shall take place. About many other--mostly minor--developments, that same Lord is willing. He allows men the free will to choose between various options, and He will go along with those choices; for, in the end, all human choices wll be co-opted as grist into God's mill, which grinds slowly, but always grinds exceedingly fine.
(Malachi Martin, The Keys of this Blood, Prologue: The Servant of the Grand Design)

As I progressed through the work, I was awed at how the Jesuit delved into the intricate histories of the three major world powers (the Church as headed by John Paul II, Communism as led by Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, and the Capitalist West). Nearing the close of the book, the writer brought me to a place that at the time, I could not have even pronounced the name:

By the time that much prepared date August 26, 1968, rolled around, there was nobody in Poland who was unaware of what would be transacted at the monastery of
Częstochowa on Jasna Góra--the Bright Mountain--with Mary as Queen of Poland...

....Wyszyński himself presided over the ceremonies at
Częstochowa. Over a quarter of a million pilgrims gathered on the hillside around the monastery and again responded to the words of national dedication. True, the militia was present. Extra government troops, police battalions and teams of Zomos--bully boys--stood by watchfully, but not daring to make any move. While the voices of that quarter million rang out again and again--''Yes! We swear it!''--in response to the ritual requests for their assent to the dedication, the same ceremony was being performed at literally thousands of locations throughout Poland...

...It was Archbishop Wojtyła's function to piece all of it together in words. He spoke of the ''supernatural current'' let loose by the millenial celebrations of
Jasna Góra...he hammered home the supreme lesson: "Our temporal theology demands that we dedicate ourselves into the hands of the Holy Mother. May we all live up to our tasks."

(ibid., Book II: The Geopolitics of Faith, Part Six: The Vision of the Servant, Chapter 30: Papal Training Ground: Under the Sign of Solidarność)

Half a year before I was reading this, my mother had been in a religious article shop in Memphis, Tennessee. We were all suffering while one of my younger sisters was heroically battling childhood cancer, and thus we were constantly searching the realm of Sacraments and sacramentals for consolation. The store was owned by a convert to the Russian Orthodox Church, and perhaps that was what had lured my mother in, as we none of us had a liking for religious kitsch, and saccharine Virgin Marys dressed in anæmic pink and baby blue are not the stock and store of the Eastern churches.

My mother did tell the man she was Catholic (and proud of the fact on seeing his adverse reaction) and asked if there was anything he would recommend her purchasing. She walked out of his store with an icon of Our Lady of Vladimir and the Black Madonna. He had not exactly been very informative about the latter, saying mostly that she was a 'bridge between East and West,' but that is how she came to be in our family. As a girl, I only knew that her image and Our Lady of Guadalupe's dominated my mind and devotions with a fearful power. It was the serene, regal face with a delicate nose, oriental eyes, and pensive mouth that I beheld during the family rosaries. The then unpronounceable name of the city from whence she presided was as distant and exalted in my imagination as Eden.

And now, I was going there on foot for the second time! I find that
discomfort has a dual tendency in me to either render a trial more mundane or more mystical by its presence. Amidst my contemplations, I seesawed between the two extremes the whole day, sometimes humourously setting each visibile landmark as my next goal before I would ask someone to carry me, then putting off the question until the next landmark.

Other times, I thought of the past that had brought me on the journey again, and wondered if a certain Alexian religious brother might be gazing down on me and using my efforts for some purpose dear to him on Earth.

God love you, Brother Cajetan!

(Evidence of the aforementioned heat, as Father Grzegorz here rather fittingly looks the part of Lawrence of Polonia :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

'Hurry up, hurry up!' I told my coffee as it steeped. I plopped the last scone into a bag and tried to zip my rucksack singlehandedly. I hoped those goodies would be eaten quickly; there were too many things in my backpack that I had not yet been able to put in the truck transporting our heavier baggage, so I wanted to lighten the load as soon as possible. Ah, five minutes was up, and I began drinking what would be my last cup for at least several days, lingering over each sip even as I eyed my toothbrush.

The sky outside was heavy and overcast. There would be no magenta dawn this year. No matter, I could settle for a rose-hued orb against grey velvet. Checking my plugs, extinguished candles, and gas for the eighteenth time, I finally went running for the bus.

Though twenty and a half miles lay ahead of me, I could not sit down once aboard. Laying my bag in one of the many empty seats at 5:30 AM, I folded my arms and pondered.

What are you doing this year?
I'm going to pray. There you are.
What are you asking for?
I smiled. Reposing in my heart was a strong regard for the intentions of all whom I had known and especially those dear to me. I also planned on carrying up the burden of every soul that watched the procession (friendly or hostile) on the way. However, I was not going to petition for them. I had made the consecration of slavery to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and thus had foresworn the right to ask for anything in such a direct manner.

A priest once chided me in confession for this very literal interpretation of St. Louis de Montfort's consecration, but my own reason could not find in the saint's adamant language any room to maintain petitions at my personal discretion. I was to be a slave and to offer what I had to the Queen, who would present them fittingly before the King and ask Him for the favours she wanted. If I
craved something, I could but look upon it, and hope that she might think my desire worthy enough to carry before the throne. For example, I might wish my fast to be offered up for a political crisis, or the pain in my heart to ease that in a sister's, or my rosary to strengthen the sinews of a friend's felicity, yet the Mother of God might use these prayers for something quite different.

In childhood, there were many times when I may have presented a sweet or a flower to my mother, who in turn gave it to a crying sibling. I was always quite put out whenever she had usurped the direction of my gift and to someone who did not deserve it either! However, mothers have a tendency to give blessings to those who merit them least. Understanding that tendency, and in my pride wishing to direct any spiritual works of mercy I might do, I had resisted the consecration from age 13 to 26. A year after having made it though, I was now receiving the consolations of the promise.

'Dear Lady, you know what is near to my heart and all that I long for, but you'll ask the Lord what you think is best for me, and I shall not open my mouth. This year, I promise to relish the peace and joy of the pilgrimage and seek nothing beyond. I ask for--I hope for--nothing.' I clenched my hands, hoping I earnestly meant what I was thinking, and hopped off the bus.

Our assembly must have been a bit smaller than the year before; I was surprised to find a place in a pew at Mass. We piled our rucksacks in the back and knelt with the keen readiness of soldiers at the Sacrifice. When Mass had been said and the Holy Eucharist distributed, I took a moment to read the Vespers' hymn for the Feast of the Transfiguration:

Quicumque Christum quaeritis, All ye who seek full longingly

Oculos in altum tóllite: For Christ, lift up your eyes on high:
Thank you Marzena!
Illic licébit vísere There may ye see the vision bright,
Signum per
énnis glória. Th' eternal Son, in glorious light.

'O Lord!' I whispered, my throat already choaking and my eyes stinging. Gazing up at the icon of the Black Madonna above the altar, I thought, 'Yes. I shall lift up mine eyes to the Bright Mount, and contemplate Him to whom she gestures.'

Leaving the chapel, we were greeted with silver inches from the misty grey dome of heaven. The humidity in the air promised identical weather to that of 6 August, 2010. I am certain all the pilgrims had the same presentiment as the day progressed and that all hoped to find their transported bags drier than themselves at the day's end.

I exchanged greetings with familiar faces, and it was so lovely to reflect that they were known to me. Two children whom I had met from the year before, M. and O. (not at this time wishing to be 'Frodo' and 'Pippin'), seemed delighted that I
remembered their names, and I soon found two ready walking companions who did not much mind my unpolished Polish.

Happily, more pilgrims joined us later, and many more walked with us to the outskirts of Warszawa to see us off. The sun shone, and the rain fell in turn. Yet, this time, when we arrived at our destination, the baggage was perfectly dry. It was also a little blessing to be encamped at the same idyllic homestead as last year.

Yet, I was informed that the man owned it had endured many trials, having lost both his wife and one of his children. He was congenial with the pilgrims and generous with his property, and it seemed a pity that I might not offer up a particular Ave for his sake.

Say one up anyway, and it shall be for someone.

Yes, for whomever it was, this pilgrimage would surely be for someone.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Well, I'm back, and though I had had an uncanny intuition before leaving, I had not fully expected my second pilgrimage to so utterly surpass the first!

I was content to undergo it and say no more, remembering the exhausting effort that went into relating the first journey. Checking facts, organizing thoughts, and weighing constantly the balance between the anecdotal and the spiritual had taken a long time, and (I thought) who had read it? Nope! No point troubling over that again!

Well, it turns out that some had read it (oh), and I was even asked if I planned on writing about the second one. The more I contemplate it, the more I think that writing out what I learned and felt is as good an exercise for me as it might be (I hope) edifying or entertaining for any reader stumbling onto my blog. So, balancing myself between some essays that need finishing, I will soon embark on the trail of describing my second upwards fall to Jasna Góra.

Friday, August 5, 2011
Alas, that I could not finish my current essay before the pilgrimage started! But that is not such a great regret when I think of the nine, blessed days stretching out before me.

I have tucked my readers' intentions into the mantle of Our Lady; may she hold you all near the Heart of her Son.
Monday, August 1, 2011
From the beginning of WWI to the climax of WWII...what a difference between two days though they are separated by many years.

I wrote of this day last year, albeit poorly, and even now my fingers fumble along the keys, and my mind gurgles at the desire to say something more substantial and compelling of the Warsaw Uprising. Yet, to me, it is like trying to write of a mountain from the base. It is so great and immediate that I can hardly think of a barrier or angle to distance myself enough from it to write of it. It is beyond my experience, so what personal thing can I say? It was the unique effort of an heroic people, so what universal principle shall I proceed from?

It is impossible for me to be more eloquent than the bald facts, so let them speak for themselves here:

God bless Poland, and long live Christ the King!

Niech Bóg błogosławi Polska i niech żyje Chrystus Król!

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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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