Monday, September 5, 2011
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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