Friday, September 23, 2011
Nature loves, as lady bright, 
In gayest guise to shine, 
All forms of grace, all tints of light, 
Fringe her robe divine.
Sun-lit heaven, and rainbow cloud,
Changeful main, and mountain proud,
Branching tree, and meadow green, 
All are decked in broidered sheen.
Not a bird on bough-propped tower,
Insect slim, nor tiny flower,
Stone, nor spar, nor shell of sea,
But is fair in its degree.
'Tis not pride, this vaunt of beauty;
Well she 'quits her trust of duty;
And, amid her gorgeous state,
Bright, and bland, and delicate,
Ever beaming from her face
Praise of a Father's love we trace.
_Blessed John Henry Newman, My Lady Nature and Her Daugthers

Autumn need not always be poignant, drowning us with its mystery and heart-breaking beauty. Rich as it is with delights, it may even be more carefree than the lightest spring. A happy equinox to you!
Saturday, September 17, 2011
For the wisdom of the flesh is death; but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace. Because the wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be. And they who are in the flesh, cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body indeed is dead, because of sin; but the spirit liveth, because of justification. (Romans VIII:6-10)

I woke this morning to find a lovely gift in my inbox. It was a Russian folk song about death, sung in the worn voice--all the more poignant for its quavering tones--of an old woman. The words were very simple, as such words should be on so universal a thing as the end of life. It echoed the sentiments of Tolstoy in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, in which a man dying of terminal illness is tormented most by his family and friends in their refusal to accept the fact that he is dying, nay, that he is even ill! 

It is because they perceive death in such a terrified manner that they try to spare themselves of its horror by refusing to see it in Ilyich, clinging to the health of their bodies and refusing to contemplate the failure of his flesh. Only the stocky, healthy peasant boy, Gerasim, offers the man any comfort. He does so through physical assistance, and by speaking frankly to him of his condition. 'You're a sick man. Why shouldn't I help you?' When Ivan does at last die, one of the many acquaintances that failed to console the man makes the typical, Western, post-Christian observation to Gerasim:

'Well, friend Gerasim,' said Peter Ivanovich, so as to say something. 'It's a sad affair, isn't it?'
'It's God's will. We shall all come to it some day,' said Gerasim. (The Death of Ivan Ilyich: Chapter I)

So we shall. 

Father Walter Ciszek, as he first repined in prisonment and then laboured in the Lubyanka prison, came to the conclusion that the flesh, after our soul quitted it, would in fact--not as a trite, pious euphemism--receive a well deserved rest until the day of the General Resurrection. For he came to love his body, as he discovered its magnificent power of endurance, to hold together, not as the 'glorified body of the athlete' but as his own simple flesh, persevering under comfortless, impossible conditions. As he observes this in his work, He Leadeth Me, he also remarks what a shame it is the way most Churchmen (orthodox ones) so immediately dismiss the body as a dumb brute that deserves nothing more than a good beating to keep it in line. Even the simple Russian song, which I am enjoying at this moment has to cast such a light on the flesh:

They will raise the sinful body and carry it to the church....

Poor body! As if it ever had any volition of its own! As if my hand ever of its own accord wrestled with a sister, or my tongue articulated an unkind word without the prompting of my mind, or my eyes ever rolled back in their sockets because of an involuntary instinct.

Yet, very often has my saucy spirit lectured it: 'I am willing, but you are weak. If you never ached, I would never be irascible! All your stupid hungers, desires, and needs! If I did not have to take care of you, look after you, I would be like unto an angel, and you hold me back with your rebellious corruptibility!'

Ungrateful soul! How would you even exist without this material form? You weren't before your body was, and you will not be whole after death until reunited with your poor flesh. Father Malachy summed up the absolute necessity of the flesh for man's being quite well when explaining the subsistence of angels to Bernard Janzen:

'How do we know there are two people in this room? We count two bodies. Angels do not have bodies. How then do we individuate angels? By their functions...'

In this fact, we see an instance where man is more fittingly made in the image of God than even the angelic choirs, and it has all to do with that corruptible mass of loosely bonded atoms. For as St. Thomas Aquinas observes:

We may speak of God's image in two ways. First, we may consider in it that in which the image chiefly consists, that is, the intellectual nature. Thus the image of God is more perfect in the angels than in man, because their intellectual nature is more perfect, as is clear from what has been said (58, 3; 79, 8).(Summa Theologica: Prima Pars, Question 93, Article III)

So when God said, 'Let Us make man to Our image', He referred to the intellectual aspect of man only in so far as man was above the beasts and elements just created. When compared with the angels's resemblance to the Divine though, man's likeness to God does not wane, for in one aspect it is even more vivid:

Secondly, we may consider the image of God in man as regards its accidental qualities, so far as to observe in man a certain imitation of God, consisting in the fact that man proceeds from man, as God from God; and also in the fact that the whole human soul is in the whole body, as God from God; and also in the fact that the whole human soul is in the whole body, and again, in every part, as God is in regard to the whole world. In these and the like things the image of God is more perfect in man than it is in the angels. (ibid.)

This subsistence in the flesh to be undertaken by God Himself is what some mystics (e.g. Venerable Mary of Agreda) say sealed Lucifer's rebellious course. He could not bear the fact of God in man--man who eats, sweats, defecates, and dies. He would not serve the God-man, and he would certainly not confess the superiority of the Virgin over any angel in creation, much less himself.

Furthermore, there is a blessed gift accorded to flesh that angels may never have. Saint Faustina wrote in her diary:

If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things; one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering. (Diary, 1804)

Indeed, can the resignation of an angel hold a candle to that of Our Lady's? Can an angel claim as much credit for its unwavering focus on the Lord, when it has never had a stomach which growled for feeding nor knees that ached from being long in a prayerful posture? And can they ever receive Christ so intimately as we do in that neglected miracle offered at every Mass?

The flesh was created by God, so it is good. As Christ taught us, we are not to blame our spiritual baseness on the less noble aspect of our being:

And He saith to them: So are you also without knowledge? understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him: Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats? But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man. For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man. (Mark VII:18-23)

Why then have the holy Apostles, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church so often lashed the flesh in such unequivocal terms, often praising the spirit for no other reason that it is spiritual? What of all the heresies and blasphemies that have arisen due to hatred of the flesh and the undue exaltation of the soul? And since as Our Lord says that evil arises from man's spirit, why does the flesh shoulder so much blame?

There are at least two possibilities for these invectives against the body. The first is that the preachers of the Church were speaking so that the masses could understand them. If a man has struck another and he repents, he may irrationally hate the hand that did the deed. When one behaves like a glutton and repents, one is disgusted with one's bodily appetites and not the spirit that would not curb the flesh. Our bodies subject us constantly to urges to which our mind objects, so it is easy to overlook our volition's responsibility and blame that physical mass for what we have done. 

When a teacher addresses a class, he will at least begin by speaking in their language and employing terms they understand. If the class is too large or too thick, he will not press them beyond their abilities with fine distinctions. So if a Father of the Church sees that his flock associates their sins with their bodies, he will tell them, 'Stop listening to your body!' 

Since ordering the flesh is not a pleasant thing, he will not describe asceticism in such terms as perfecting the harmony of flesh and spirit, but with analogies of violent subjugation. The disciplined athlete may come to see his exercises as an act of properly loving his body, but a coach just beginning to whip his team into shape will speak on the necessity of pain and competition with one's fleshly self to achieve perfection.

The second reason: as it is subsistence in a body which makes an individual man to be himself, it is also the indispensable centre of his ego. Spiritual people too often forget this, picturing their soul as its own individual entity (whether they see it as a spark or a ghost). Yet, one's body forms one's unique self, and it is how one knows he is not the person sitting beside him on a bus or the child playing on the grass outside his window. If ever solipsism afflicted me in my youthful contemplations, I escaped it not by thinking (Descartes's error), but by cradling myself with arms of flesh and bone while staring at two beams of wood crossed together, on which was mounted the metallic likeness of a crucified man.

Thus far there is no sin. However, attachment to one's self is hardly ever present in man at a moderate degree. We either love ourselves excessively, or we hate ourselves melodramatically. Only the saint stands a tip-toe on that slender thread of gossamer where he loves himself as a creature of God and is perfectly subordinated to the Creator. The infinite shades of sinful self-love or self-hate that lie on either side of that Golden Mean still boil down to one ugly fault: selfishness. Our souls were not, until knitted into our flesh, so that complex, simultaneous union makes the self. As matter itself is complex, it is even more natural for the self to identify more with its bodily aspect than its soul. This is rendered easier still by the material world surrounding us, so much so that when we speak of 'reality' we too often mean the laws of the material world, rather than absolutes which exist outside time and space.

If the flesh then is the means by which man turns away from Sum Qui Sum and into is qui non est, then the laws which his reason builds up from the flesh must be overturned, for their foundation is less than sand. Those hard grains do not corrupt and the body most certainly will.

For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. (Romans VIII:13)

A final reflection: having just completed the above citation, I stopped to blow into my hands. I have left the door to the balcony open all night, and the autumnal chill is nibbling at my fingers. I find the cold in the morning is good for this body. When it is inclined to indulge in the warmth of the bed, a quick swipe of the arm ripping off the blanket is more effective when the air is chill. Then this mortal flesh leaps off the mattress with hasty alacrity to prepare coffee and oatmeal. Alas, now it is cramped with sitting and pines for exercise. 

O dear body, whom I unduly love or despise in my fickle ways, may I bless you when you make me suffer, and may your variable needs teach my spirit moderation in all activities. Be a worthy ambassador between my soul and those of others; work with me to show my fellow man how I love him. Dear flesh, when you and I are parted, I hope you are not disturbed, but allowed to rest until that day when the trumpet blasts. My most earnest prayer is that I have entered God's benediction, and my soul and you will reunite in beatitude, as God had ordained before the Fall.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Sister Elena Aiello speaks: “Oh, what a horrible vision I see! A great revolution is going on in Rome! They are entering the Vatican. The Pope is all alone; he s praying. They are holding the Pope. They take him by force. They knock him down to the floor. They are tying him. Oh, God! Oh God! They are kicking him. What a horrible scene! How dreadful!” 

“Our Blessed Mother is drawing near. Like corpses those evil men fall down to the floor. Our Lady helps the Pope to his feet and, taking him by the arm, she covers him with her mantle saying: ‘Fear not!’(

Today, as we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Pope shall also beatify a nun that stood faithfully in the shadow of that monolith. Sweating blood, enduring dire pain, and beholding the most horrific visions, Blessed Elena Aiello lived the Passion all the days of her life. Many of her prophecies have already come to pass, but the worst has yet to come. It seems that our present Vicar of Christ is expecting their fulfillment; may he fear not.

Today he also meets with the Archbishop Fellay, and I doubt that it would be adherents to the Society of St. Pius X that would be so brutalizing the Pope in such a vision. May His Holiness's defenders increase this day! May their dialogue bear fruit!

May also, the nun's grievous suffering on this world bear fruit; may she take the great work of this day under the patronage of her mantle. She endured enough to ask this. Just before the outbreak of WWII, Christ appeared to Blessed Elena and said: 

Do you wish to come with Me to Gethsemane? You shall have to suffer for sinners.

So she did. Now we must follow suit.

Do we feast today? Let us fast more earnestly then on Friday. After having kissed the rod, let us not afterward defend ourselves from its blows. Pain dispels the cloud of cynicism most readily, and we may find ourselves ready to take up our banners again, when we see the world is not grey with stodgy incompetence and failed plans for good. It is blood red with active crimes and deliberate selfishness.

‘Behold my child, see to what ends the sins of man have reduced me. The world has lowered itself in overflowing corruption. The governments of the peop1e have risen like demons incarnated, and, while they speak of peace they prepare for war with the most devastating implements to destroy peoples and nations. Men have become ungrateful to My Sacred Heart, and abusing My Mercy, have transformed the earth into a scene of crime’

Mortification can help us to see this! Our sufferings are efficacious! How? This we shall not know until we are dead, but this Friday, let us all together take it upon ourselves to bear a bit of the cross. Or shall we let God's chosen mystics shoulder all our burdens for us? Will an unknown man or woman suffer wretchedly for the sinners beloved by you? For your family, friends, and nation?

As anyone who was spanked as a child knows, it is better to bend over and have it done with. It is certainly best not to put one's hands in the way of the paddle at the last moment. So it must be the most beneficial for us, if we willingly mortify ourselves now, than have it inflicted upon us later. Not today (for today is a feast of God) but at the proper times appointed by Him, let us live closer to the foot of the cross.
Friday, September 9, 2011
'Let's not do politics; let's build Poland.'

Thus said a billboard featuring a large image of Donald Tusk, looking rather blue collar with no jacket or tie. If his sleeves were visible, I'm sure they were rolled up above the elbow.

A Pole walking with me frowned at the slogan and said that the sentiment communicated by the billboard was actually, to a certain extent, illegal.

'What? How so? I personally rather like the words, though I don't believe that Tusk genuinely means it.'

'He's supposed to support his party's politics; he's taken an oath to do so.'

I groaned. 'The law should never be able to restrict a man from having an awakening of conscience, especially the crime is merely breaking with one's party platform.'

Last Friday, such an awakening, or at least a stand, did take place in Poland. Fifteen noble souls defied the PO's (Civic Platform) party line, and voted in favour of a bill that would ban abortion completely. And yes, their coalition now wants to make them pay for voting according to their conscience, rather than following the coalitions modus operandi.

One may argue that rejecting their faction's position and favouring a higher, moral code was undemocratic. Is PO not in power because of votes? However, Jacek Tomczak, one of the fifteen, did not only justify his actions ethically, but politically as well.

“I voted against the rejection of the (bill) because it was a civic project supported by 600,000 citizens...As a conservative I could not vote against my conscience, especially as it concerned the right to life of the most innocent and defenseless human beings.” (

Mirosław Puta stated outright that one's political party should not dictate positions on 'ideological' issues at all. That's an intriguing statement. When Aristotle concluded the Nicomachean Ethics, he ended with the words, 'Now let us begin.' He meant that the student was finally ready to read his work, Politics. For the Philosopher, the entire point of laying down a rational framework for moral conduct was to guide one's understanding of how a state should function properly. While Puta rightly understands that his party does not have the final say on moral issues, he ought to recognize that it should be the other way around.

The formal Marshall of the Sejm, Marek Jurek, did not tolerate such flaws in his own coalition, and in his integrity, resigned his tenure. He has now formed his own party, but it is a tragedy in Western democracy that he had to do either of these things. A statesman should be chosen for himself, not for the conglomerate faction to which he is expected to pay court. Consider this scheme to institute genuine democratic reform in Britain:

Can one guess why the fictional Prime Minister did not put it forward? Yes, that's right. By the end of the episode, the elitist 'Permanent Secretary for the Department of Administrative Affairs' (backed with a bargaining chip from a Leftist politician) reminds the Prime Minister that he was not given power by the people, but by his party. What kinds of horrible things would the coalition do to revenge itself upon him if he betrayed it by reforming local government at the party's expense?

George Washington's Farewell Address on bequeathing the presidential office is not infallible advice for a state, but it does contain the sincere opinions of a man who was a leader and a statesman rather than merely a politician. Of the five key warnings laid down in the speech, the second is by far the most significant to a democracy qua democracy:

...Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally. 

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. 

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty...

...It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another. (George Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States)

The reason I am a monarchist and not a democrat is not because of the superior beauty, pomp, and poetry of the former order. It is because there will always be a king, whether he rules directly or through the command of a group. Whatever title one may choose to give him, be it president, prime minister, dictator, or Cromwell's hideousely ironic label, 'Protector of the Realm.' The only variation is how entangled the support behind the throne is, whether there is indeed one head or many, and how long the reign may last (life, four years?).

An outright, functioning monarchy is more advantageous to the people in its transparency. If the king did in fact become a Cronus devouring his children, it would be better to know exactly who he is that one may visit him at his bath à la Charlotte Corday (assuming of course, that it is the kind of tyrannicide that St. Thomas Aquinas would approve of: removing rather than exacerbating the problems of the state). In a party state though, such an expediency is absolutely impossible. As Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out, the tyranny of the majority would be more entrenched than that of a king's, and one cannot combat that sort of tyrant.

Washington, et al., had been more reluctant to demand independence from England than the fiery rebels of New England, and though he has left many rousing and eloquent words as to the reason he took part in the War of Independence, we shall never know how much he believed that the colonies would be freer in their own union. Like Tocqueville, he seems to have seen the constitutional form of government as an experiment, and his tenure as president undoubtedly showed him how delicate an experiment it was. 

One wonders what he would think of the EU's 'Philadelphia moment' and of a system governed by men who are not elected at all, though they definitely toe a certain party's line. 

Gaius Mucius Scaevola, as so vividly depicted by Livy, shall always strike an impressive visage in the imagination, regardless of one's political views. Even though he botched his venture into the hostile Etruscan camp by assasinating a well-dressed secretary rather than the enemy king, he managed at least to declare his fierce defiance, and that of 'three hundred other youths of Rome', by thrusting his hand into a flame and saying, 'Rather this than a king in Rome!' 

According to the republican historian, this impressed King Porsenna so much that the monarch released him. Yet, had that young man seen the forthcoming travail of the modern world, he would have placed both hands in the fire crying, 'Rather this than the rule of a party in Rome!' 

Would a party be as clement as Porsenna at such a display of defiance? Well, are those fifteen lawmakers being fined or not?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011
I awoke that morning with no sense of what would befall the next day. It was the same peaceful feeling as the year before. My mind stopped projecting into the next week, month, or year and settled into an easy sleep, relinquishing the future for the present. It would be wrong to say there seemed to be nothing beyond the pilgrimage. Rather, it felt as though everything were converging on its conclusion, just as eternity unravels time by fulfilling it in one absolute moment.

I was staying the night in Częstochowa for the Mass of the Assumption this time. There was perfect freedom this year in how I reckoned my time, and how blessed a gift that was! 

As today was Sunday, the Mass said at Jasna Góra would not be the vigil of Our Lady's feast, so on one of the rest stops, I paused to read the vigil Mass by myself. The Lesson of the fourteenth of August is one of my favourite passages in Holy Scripture, as well as from one of my favourite books. Truly, if our separated brethren had not rejected Ecclesiasticus, they would not stiffen at the embrace of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 

As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour: and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches. I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst. He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting. (Ecclesiasticus XXIV:23-31)

As I leaned my brow upon my missal, I thought that perhaps I had not forfeited so much in being unable to petition anymore. Though not always possessing a happy or willing spirit on the matter, it was good for me that all I could hope for were these consolations spoken of here. Strangely, Father Grzegorz spoke to us, before we plodded on the next six miles, (with dear Ola translating again) that we should not be discouraged if our lives did not change after this pilgrimage. Rather, we should think of all our spiritual efforts being gathered like dew into a great bowl, from which God would portion out mercy according to His wisdom. There is no better way of perceiving the matter.

The wait to enter Jasna Góra did not seem so long this year, and the weather, so much more clement! The crowds gathered about as as congenially as all the souls we met, though naturally a few quirky incidents had to take place. One sweet, old lady came up to me, embraced me, and then asked if I were a Muslim, much to the amusement of my companions standing about. 

'Nie,' I responded hastily, though I hope graciously, and arranged my shawl in another manner. Yet, it had not been too different from the ladies in their kerchiefs and chapel veils about me. 

One day though, people of the Church will remember that “In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed,” (Canon 21), and women would again exploit their opportunity to catechize the world and reap the fruits of observing what was not abrogated in the Code of 1917. And on that day, it will not matter how a lady chooses to veil herself. Until then, she best make sure her wrists are showing to avoid confusion over her affiliation.

Singing and praying all continued as we stood. Other pilgrim divisions, which had arrived that morning, came to smile and chat. People moved and up and down the lines to greet those whom they knew, though swiftly returning to their place in the formation. The children were wonderfully patient, and we were often exchanging gleeful expressions with one another. We were so near.

Thanks to Marzena and Basia!
Biało-czarno-czerwona received its salutation from the Pauline community, and we proceeded to make our way into the monastery. Linking hands to ensure our group's entrance, I soon found myself playing 'London's Bridge Is Falling Down', for more and more familiar faces were crawling under our fence of arms. 

It produced such a thrill, again like a culmination. Now it resembled that moment towards the end of G. K. Chesterton's novel The Ball and the Cross, when the hero has an epiphany: 

It's hard to explain, anyhow. An apocalypse is the opposite of a dream. A dream is falser than the outer life. But the end of the world is more actual than the world it ends. I don't say this is really the end of the world, but it's something like that--it's the end of something. All the people are crowding into one corner. Everything is coming to a point. (Chapter XIX: The Last Parley)

Thank you Marzena and Basia!

My eyes being like Evan MacIan's, I did not quite see the 'point' too 'large and plain' to be visible to puny human eyes, yet I did see something after we had passed through the gates, courtyard, and threshold of the Chapel of the Mother of God. We all gazed with love on the resplendent end of our journey. She is always the same, yet it is amazing how we change around her. We went to our knees, many I'm sure with tears in our eyes. As the year before, I wept and bowed my head, but this time I felt I heard her speak within me. This was the tone of Judith, Our Lady as the Hetmana, regal and strong as well as maternal and gentle:,1327293,1,780
Will you be my subject?

I nodded, answering with nothing else for the moment. The next day, as the bus wound its way through narrow roads still under construction, back the 165 miles to Warszawa, I did finally ask. What does it mean for me to be your subject? I ask it still every night, but there is the grace to wait. The precious fruit of this pilgrimage (for me) may be summed up thusly: a soul in the Lord's service should not be discouraged by the words:

'Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.'

Monday, September 5, 2011

I was slicing a second plate of cheese when the wake-up soundtrack started playing. Wistfulness was already stinging my eyes as I realized that I would only wake up to this one more time:


At least...until the next pilgrimage. 

Though there was no Holy Communion this day, we did celebrate Mass in the cool, pastel fog of the morning. The mist was wafting like incense above the creek behind the barn and the military tent where Father Grzegorz offered the unbloody Sacrifice. There we were in the Pentateuch, kneeling outside the tent of  the Holy of Holies, while the priest alone went forth to speak with the Presence. Though the image varies, this is what I see in my mind everytime the Sanctus is sung.

The flagbearers made a hasty breakfast and departed for the church, while the majority of us stayed behind. The procession would have to pass this house, and we could join our group then.

It was another beautiful day. The paths stretched like ribbons over beautiful spaces, and Ola, having consulted with our deacon as to particular vocabulary in his conference, concluded it beautifully. He also delivered it in such a way as to ease translation. Finally gaining such access to the lucid sermons on the pilgrimage was probably the greatest blessing of this second journey.
On our second stop (we had made a happy dent in our last long day), humidity finally gave way to a sweet light shower. Some took cover, others pulled on their ponchos and--unperturbed--ate their lunch. As I had already spread my poncho on the ground, and it was just as wet as me, I did not see the point in trying to stay dry and left the homestead to do a little exploring. The unfortunate aspect of being a pilgrim is that one may not linger in the byways as a wanderer may, and here was my chance to do so. I was well rewarded.

Wetness in the air seems to make light bleed, and all was green down by this wayside. I felt sorry that we would be continuing on asphalt, even as lovely as the road's sheen was after the rain. This road seemed to be calling me. In any case I took advantage of the solitude to sing a favourite English pilgrim's song.

Back at the farm, everyone was delightfully packed under the various porches of the generous people hosting us. The image was as ideal as a representation of Noah's ark, though alas, this may be one of the worst pictures I took on the pilgrimage. Horrible exposure, ick!

After that little fall of rain, the sky swirled into the most beautiful dome we had seen on the entire sojourn. Delicate hues of every shade of blue and white painted the heavens, all in elegant swirls of marble texture. It covered us throughout the day, as though it were a Marian mantle. As I watched others writing their intentions for the rosary, I did not sigh, but reminded myself that she had already tucked my petitions into her heart, and if they were worthy, she would present them to the Lord herself.

When we arrived at the farmstead, I noticed with gratification that the vicious dog from the year before was on a shorter chain. He made no aggressive lunges at unwary pilgrims this year. However I did have to deal with another sort of attack, for M. insisted on engaging me in mimed sparring à la Lord of the Rings encounters. Though he graciously allowed me to be the winning character at times, I usually ended up being thrust through the middle with a spear or sword. Andrzej told me I was going to spoil that boy, but why not? I'll have to mind conduct well enough one day should I have children of my own.

Pastel blues faded into the fuchsia, violet, and finally indigo when night fell, and the moon kept teasing us through the folds of velvet clouds. One could not tear one's eyes away, even in prayer. Yet, it was no distraction. Heaven itself seemed to respond to our praise. I don't know how many saw it, but the moon did fully emerge from her wrappings--pure and resplendent in the night--just as we intoned the Apel Jasnogórski: 

Maryjo, Królowo Polski, 
Maryjo, Królowo Polski, 
jestem przy Tobie, pamiętam, 
jestem przy Tobie, pamiętam, 

Mary, Queen of Poland, 
Mary, Queen of Poland, 
I am by your side, I remember, 
I am by your side, I remember, 
I am keeping watch.

Carefully tiptoeing amongst the fair sleepers in the military tent (the barns having had no space for the ladies to bed down in), I made my way quietly enough to the truck. It was time for one of my favourite tasks--one which I loved for it could always be accomplished.

Teachers are often frustrated when their logical syntheses do not take root in their students. So are writers, when constant practice does not enable them to shape the lovely thoughts in their minds into equally precious words on paper, and still more discouraged are Christians, when they wearily observe that good habits and steady observance have not yet made them into saints.

Yet, outside that world of rebellious wills and faltering resolve, is the cosmos. Devoid of appetitive spirit, it adheres perfectly to the laws set down for it by God. We all know that however our pupils, skills, and souls may disappoint us, if we mix the right ingredients in the right ratio, our cakes will always rise. If we put our elbows into our scrubbing while using the right liquid, the dishes will always come clean. 

And so they did. This task being done, I glanced at the other pilgrims at the table preparing breakfast itself.

'What's this, Amerykanka?' a familiar voice asked. Piotrek L. had just joined us on the pilgrimage, 'Looking for a rest are you?'

'No,' I replied (teasingly imitating his British intonation and probably earning myself a good decade in Purgatory for that), 'I'm looking for something else to do.' 'After all, I have an American Protestant work ethic,' I added inwardly. Cucumbers swiftly provided me with something to occupy it.

Thanks Marzena once more!
As we hurried with making breakfast, preparations for Mass were carried out beautifully, with the Maltese crosses serving as a vibrant backdrop for the altar of the Paschal Lamb. Under the blue dome, surrounded with brown pillars of moss and bark, we were surely in a sanctuary that the day's patroness, St. Clare of Assisi would approve of.

The rest of the day entailed walking through the natural world she loved, over the glossy sheen of emerald grass, and through the powder of grey-brown earth, with mankind's asphalt lanes only interjecting themselves intermittently. 

This day's conference (split into two parts) was by our deacon, Sergiusz, who spoke to us of O Męce Pańskiej ('About the Passion of Our Lord'). Figuring vividly in my memory was what he had to say on virtues, cardinal and theological. Ola had sweetly offered to translate these conferences for me, and I was amazed at how readily she did so. Her words were nearly simultaneous with his, and they came in such a polished, erudite fashion. Later she joked that she was actually making it up as she went along; she also graciously told me that translating helped the conference take deeper root in her own mind. I am glad that she received this reward in the act of mercy she worked for me.

On one of our rest stops, as I lay half across a bed of moss and half on my poncho, I was going over something the deacon had said. Concerning the natural virtues, there are boundaries of excess and dearth, and in the middle, a Golden Mean that must be striven for. In the supernatural virtues, we are to strive without ceasing. There is no limit of attainment. 

Perhaps this is where the charisms of Dominicans and Franciscans diverge. Whereas the former resides in the lapidate pinions of the cherubim, the latter is uplifted by the carmine wings of the seraphim, the knowers and the lovers. Yet, while loving is first in terms of worthiness, knowing is always prior to loving.  While the Dominicans took all the wisdom of man to light the Golden Path, eruditely expounding on such themes as the cardinal virtues, Franciscans cast themselves headlong into upwards infinity, straightway making for the theological virtues.

Grace is of course performed upon the individual, not the calling, and who is to say when a Dominican has loved most from his knowing or a Franciscan known well from his loving? This seems to have been St. Clare's way of seeing God--simultaneously, in an act of love:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation. So that you too may feel what His friends feel as they taste the hidden sweetness that God Himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love Him. _St. Clare of Assisi to St. Agnes of Bohemia
Thank you Marzena!

The paths we trode that day continued to weave through the loveliest groves. It was one of the easier days (only 14.6 miles), and it did not seem long before we arrived at the homestead of the year before, this time happily bereft of mosquitoes and the ground cleared of fallen apples.

'You should think of mice and spiders,' O. told me, when she saw several girls as well as myself bedding down on a pile of hay. 'Oh, mice are better than rats, and I like spiders,' I laughed. In any case, that night was to give me the best and warmest sleep I would have on the pilgrimage. No amount of critters that I didn't like could have held me back from it.

Later, M.'s, O's, and my game of 'Boo' escalated. I had been trying to tell them to wait for their opportunity of frightening me, namely when I wasn't expecting it. They refused to cooperate, and having a strict dictum to never patronize children, I stopped feigning fear at their exclamations. I simply collapsed to the ground in a heap. Their reaction, simultaneously horrified and gratified, was delightful, as well as their tests to see if I lived (it would seem my feet are not ticklish anymore). Granted, that made the game more difficult for the duration of our journey, but who would have it any other way?

Day declined, fading gently into a swirling, periwinkle velvet, from which the full moon emerged like a silmaril, glowing with the best of gold and silver. The blessed moon was full for most of the pilgrimage, just as if it were the face of Our Lady turned upon us. I asked a priest who visited us that evening (alas, I did not see him again) if he thought it would be strange to have such an image of the moon in one's house, and to use it as if it were an image of the Virgin Mary. He shrugged and said he saw nothing wrong in that at all. I hope he did not think I was joking, and responded with a joke himself, for his approval would be too wonderful to part with.

Compline followed later, then bed, and throughout our sleep, I know that perfect mirror of the Lord's light kept her loving vigil.

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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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