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.


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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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