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Two Mule-Loads of Earth & tears in my teacup

This morning, I sat at my desk in the office. I’m still sitting here.

I began the day with a cup of tea, in that tacky way where the string hangs over the side of the cup because I know I can get two cups out of one bag, and I am too lazy to take the bag out between uses.

The desk is a mess. It has my husband’s things scattered all over it, which I understand. I just moved back home from Chicago, and my desk was fair game. The year-long contract position is done. I needed my family. They needed me. But mostly, I needed to halt the every-weekend-twelve-hour-round-trip commute from St. Louis to Chicago.

But I sat at my desk this morning, and my heart was heavy.

I miss it. I miss … what?

What is it that I miss?

I wasn’t sure, but I have felt it for a couple of days. Not quite myself. Still transitioning, I suppose.

My Missal is in a wooden crate on the top of my desk, so I reached into the box, picked up my Missal and read today’s readings. That’s a start. A step in figuring out what is wrong with me.

Then I picked up my copy of The St. Louis Review, my hometown archdiocesan newspaper. It has been a lifetime since I had the time to read this at my leisure.

I skimmed articles. Admired Lisa Johnston’s photography. Wished I had some of the “Reclaimed and Respected” sacred items they have retired from a decommissioned church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I love that stuff.

I fantasized about doing a show on EWTN with my friends Elizabeth Westhoff and Lisa Johnston. We would be like American Pickers, only we would go into the dusty corners of old churches and monasteries and uncover hidden treasures. They would explain each treasure to me, each pre-Vatican II gem. “See this, Denise, this was used for…” They would be the teachers, I the student. The convert. I have been Catholic since 2005, but I still feel the newness and beauty of discovery. The show would be a huge hit. We are all sentimental. We are all in love with the past. We all cling to Mother Church and want to know the stories of those years before we were born into the family.

I fell short of coveting the stained-glass windows in the pictures and staying too long in a dreamy world of EWTN programming called “Lost Catholic Gems Across America,”

And I landed on the Archbishop’s column. It was about St. Francis of Assisi. Feast day, October 4.

That’s today, I realized.

And my eyes filled with tears.

St. Francis, the saint who loved the Holy Land so dearly that even today, the Franciscans have custody of the Christian holy sites. They hold these gems in their hands and preserve them for you and for me. They say, “Come and see. Come and worship where it all began.”

The Custos.

I’m crying again as I write these words. I’m crying because the land still has my heart. It still calls to me. I need to go. I need to be there. And now, I don’t know how that will happen. But my feet must walk those dusty paths. I must see Magdala again. I felt Mary Magdalene when I was there. I must gaze at Mt. Arbel from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. I feel Jesus there.

I must walk the Stations of the Cross. In Jerusalem.

Last week, I visited the Cardinal Rigali Center. I took some time to pray in the chapel before a meeting. I noticed the Stations of the Cross. Station Number Seven was directly across from where I knelt.

I stood up, thinking of Jerusalem, and walked to the station. And then the next. And then another. It was out of order, but that is how it is for those in Jerusalem. The disks with the Roman numerals are here and there, and you come up on them in an out-of-order sort of way, and they seem to come to you in an out-of-context way as well.

Only the pilgrims who deliberately walk the Stations encounter them one-by-one.

And St. Francis was back in my head. And the article. And the brown robes and the Custos and the ache I feel that will not go away.

I simply cannot understand why a Catholic would go through life without following in the footsteps of St. Francis… let alone Jesus Christ.

We walk those footsteps spiritually, leaning on readings and artwork to take us there.

But the “there” is still there!

Now, I’m back to crying again, because that reality is so amazing, so incredibly awesome in the truest sense of that word, that I cannot believe I have resigned a position that literally paid me to go there every year.

Oh, yeah. Family. The long commute. The Archdiocese of St. Louis is home and Chicago never really was home.

But, Lord. I ache.

Enough of this article that reminds me of the Holy Land. I turn the page. There is a Mass Mob coming up on October 9. Another article about volleyball at St. Pius. More photos in the insert about reclaiming old Church treasures.

And then, an article by Bishop Hermann on next Sunday’s readings.

Naaman. I know this story. His wife’s servant girl is an Israelite. And when her mistress’ husband falls ill with leprosy, she begs her mistress to tell Naaman about a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

A little girl. A servant child. And yet, she remembered the old stories. The treasures of her home and the faith she was born into. The gems hidden back home. Reclaiming the sacred for others.

And Naaman listens to the child. He goes to Israel and finds Elisha. When Elisha tells him to bathe in the Jordan River, he scoffs at that. What is that river to him? His homeland has far greater bodies of water. The Jordan seems to be nothing. A stream that flows from the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea.

Naaman almost leaves in disgust without so much as dipping his foot in the water.

But his traveling companion urges him… “Master, you have come this far…”

And, of course, Naaman is healed of the leprosy when he bathes in the Jordan River.

When Elisha refuses his gifts, Naaman asks for a gift in return. What is it?

Oh, Sweet Jesus, I am crying again.

He asks for two mule-loads of earth.

Of Holy Land.

 

 

I’m home today, in a messy, messy office. On my desk is a miniature Pieta. On the wall, a sketch of the Visitation. On the shelves, two statues of the flight to Egypt from Bethlehem. A shofar. A miniature Ark of the Covenant that holds my Rosary. A statue of St. Jude. My father’s Jerusalem Bible. —- All of it, my two mule-loads of earth from the Holy Land.

I’m going back. Lord willing, I will go back.

Blessed Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

 

The Root and the Shoot

I have had an amazing year.

Like Dorothy to the Scarecrow, my heart is telling me I will miss one thing the most now that I have returned to my St. Louis home and left my Chicago apartment.

Margalit.

Her name means Pearl in Hebrew. And a pearl she is.

It was worth purchasing the entire field, that season of life that lasted from November 2015 to last week–just to possess this great pearl.

Do you know what it is like to talk with a Jewish woman who knows her faith about Chanukuh or Shavuot or Pesach?

When you both realize that Shabbat features Challah bread, with leavening, but Pesach (Passover) only has the unleavened bread, like the Eucharist…you realize something.

When you both realize that there is an exquisite Hebrew poem that talks about the Queen of the Sabbath and you realize that Saturday is known as Mary’s day…you realize something.

When you both begin to wipe away tears because you realize that holiness means something very much the same to each of you, and that the Ten Commandments are the bedrock for both of you, and that you have far more in common than what you do not have in common…

When you realize that you love the same land.

When you discover that Ruth and Naomi are favorites to you both.

When you realize that she prays for the deceased Jewish man or woman and invokes Sarah when the name of the deceased person’s mother is not known, and you realize that you ask for the intercession of Mary, the New Eve. When you realize that she asks for the intercessions of Eva for all others.

When you find out that you are both praying for the Messiah to come–and it is a daily prayer.

When you see the similarity in the Mezuzah and the Holy Water Font, the Mikvah and the Baptismal Font, the days of feasting and fasting.

When she asks if Christians think that Jews are irrelevant now that their Messiah has come and you realize that she just needs to know that nothing could be further from the truth, that the Old Covenant with the LORD remains because God does not revoke His promises, that the New Covenant with Christ means that the Light of the Nations really has gone out into the nations and that you are a beneficiary of that holy nation.

When you choke on your deeply-felt emotions as you say in a husky voice, it is as though you are my matriarch and I am your offspring, even though you are old enough to be her mother.

When you realize that Judaism doesn’t see itself as going out to convert the world even though it is promised to be a Light to the Nations–and you see that paradox clearly yet fully fulfilled in Christ, because we are called out to share the Gospel. It is a mandate. A calling. A supreme duty.

When you talk about the minutiae of both religions and realize that it really is the Root and the Shoot, that she is part of the root, and you are a branch of the Shoot…

That is when you realize that ECUMENISM is the most exciting thing you have encountered in a very long time. It is not dry. It is not dead. It is not hopeless or wrought with angst.

It. Is. Beautiful.

When she pauses one day in Advent to ask how you can believe in the Ten Commandments and yet not believe in One God, and you say that you definitely believe only in One God, and her face is full of questions and doubts. When you say that you believe in God the Father, and she nods in agreement. When you say that you believe in His Spirit, and she nods in agreement. You pause and think, I am 2/3 the way through the difficult teaching on the Trinity. When you say that you believe God became a Man because the whole world needed to be redeemed, and she says, but God did not become a man, and you say:

“He didn’t–

Until He did.”

And in that moment you realize that you have never been asked to defend the Incarnation, but what just came out of your mouth is true.

Truth.

That the Incarnation was unthinkable.

It was impossible.

It was not even in the realm of the imagineable.

And then, God did the unthinkable, impossible, and unimaginable.

So that the holy nation that was once a tribe and before that a family and before that a married, childless couple might become a Light to the Nations–

So that you, too, might be grafted in.

I am Ruth.

She is Naomi.

And I highly doubt that we will ever be the same…though I am old enough to be her mother.