Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter communion

God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

from Easter Communion by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ

I woke up this morning miserably ill (some awful throat virus has been plaguing the choir all week, felling cantors, choir member and directors alike), but still over brimming with joy with the gathering in communion of parish and family. The boys are making dinner, I'm alternately napping and reading on the sofa with a view of the backyard in nearly full flower.

The photo is of the dome at Immaculata University taken at noon, between my two talks last weekend.  I loved the way it goes up and up until the colors dissolve into the white light that gathers all their wavelengths together.

Christ is risen, alleluia!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

With crown of piercing thorn

“...human kind cannot bear very much reality.” TS Eliot

Several years ago, The Boy was in Rome on Good Friday — traveling with a group of Latin students from school. It wasn’t on their itinerary, but they returned to the Coliseum that night to see the Via Dolorosa, and to see Pope Benedict. He didn’t take a lot of photos, or shoot long videos, but instead told me that he thought I would want him to be there, to watch, not put a lens between him and the action. A theater guy all the way, that one. And yes, he was exactly right about what I would have wanted.

I wrote my column last week for CatholicPhilly about watching for the people around us walking the Via Dolorosa, those for whom Calvary is not an image, not something they settle themselves comfortably back into their pews to listen to, but an inescapable reality.

It's making me wonder if we should stand to listen to that proclamation of the Passion on Sunday, and on Friday, on feet that ache, with backs that long for support, that we should face at least that much reality. We should push away the lens we bring, and let ourselves be swept into this moment.

But even the willingness to bear what reality we can, to try to catch the moments where time is pierced through and we see Christ fallen in the dust and pinned to a tree, is a lens. Are we willing to face the realities of our own tears, our own troubles?

On Monday, I was pulling open a window in my hot and stuffy classroom, to let in the spring breezes (and alas, the odd wasp). The first one stuck, so I tugged hard on the second. The laws of physics are such that the forces all have to add up. The force not needed to open the window thus went into my tumbling down the lecture hall stairs until I hit the bottom. Hard with my head.

My first thought was how little padding there was between the carpet and the poured cement floor. My second was how quiet my classroom was. I have never heard it so silent, not even during a test. I picked myself up (with a little help from my students, the athletes checking for concussion symptoms) and perched on a lab stool for the rest of lecture, which I perforce finished. Students joked with me that I was benched from contact sports for the next couple of weeks, “No rugby for you, Dr. Francl!”

For the next two days my head ached, my shoulder reminded me it was stiff each time I reached up. Choir rehearsal for the Triduum, when deep breaths hurt my bruised ribs, felt like a a Lamaze class for potential messiahs. O vos omnes, qui transitit per viam, attendete...quick breath...videte...Breathe! and now push through...

By Holy Thursday I was feeling significantly less battered, marching through my to-do-list so I could keep Good Friday utterly clear for preaching and prayer, for sacred reading and liturgy, for a long contemplative walk. I printed something out on the printer down the hall, scooped it up and as I strode back to my office, began to proof read it. Then I tripped over the handy stop that keeps my door open, and went flying. Please, don’t let me hit my head again, I prayed. The cup did not pass me by, and I hit the metal leg of the table in my office with a clang that brought my retired geology colleague dashing in. Head wounds bleed. Our department financial wizard and guardian of the budget stuck her head in the door and said firmly, “I know you don’t want the fuss, but I’m calling public safety.” The campus EMT came, the campus police came to get a report, the safety officer...

Some hours later I’m cleaned up, dressed in my best black dress for Holy Thursday and sporting a neat set of stitches across my brow, a touch of the “crown of thorns.” I ache in every muscle. Each subsequent liturgy has required a bit more energy than I have. Yet like Jesus, who each time he falls gets to his feet, I am walking these Triduum days, not settled comfortably into liturgies I know well, with my lens held up, but battered and bent and blown.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To live in death and life, light and darkness

“(Be)comings all involve goings. I keep musing about how Christ holds all these things in tension: birth/death; emptiness/fullness; light and darkness; dance and stillness….and perhaps that’s what it means to be fully human, to live in death and life, light and darkness?"

Easter week funerals were the topic of post-morning prayer chatter yesterday. A parishioner died this weekend, his funeral will hold until Easter Monday; and an Augustinian friar that I know died on Friday, to be buried Wednesday of Easter week. Someone wondered how it was to be on hold through these days. So I said, difficult and's to live in the doorway between light and darkness, between life and death - we are always stretched out between heaven and earth, we just don't always notice how it feels.

Tom died 27 years ago today, on what was Holy Thursday that year. We held his wake on Easter afternoon, the funeral was on Easter Monday morning...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


At times when I write, I'm acutely conscious that it is a way of holding open a door for God to enter the world, a way in which the Word takes flesh and walks among us, pitches His tent within us.  I think of Annie Dillard, wondering how we dare to come to prayer at all, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?”  I have perhaps a faint idea of what we are invoking.  Such awareness generally does nothing for my writer's block.

Today I'm writing at DotMagis about the Word made flesh, word,s and Pope Francis' notion of misericordiando — mercy-ing.
"I’m both consoled and challenged by the pope’s notion that mercy is not just an object, but an action. Mercy-ing is a way of proceeding, a way of being in the world. Like Hopkins’s “just man who justices,” who, “acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—Christ,” mercy-ing calls us not just to be merciful, but to be mercy..." 
Read the rest at DotMagis.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Column: Looking for Calvary

The police shot the robber (inside the bank), but he survived.  When Crash saw the man the guards had shot being carried from the bank and put into the ambulance, he turned to me and said, "Did he not go like a bunny?"  Every time we crossed a Roman street I would entreat him to "go like a bunny" so we didn't get flattened by a Roman driver. I suspect I made a noncommittal noise, not wanting to go into detail at that moment about what had happened.

The crowd dispersed and we were on our way, though for the life of me I don't recall where we went from there.  The Vatican museum?

What do we see?

This column appeared at Catholic Philly on 10 April 2014.

You see many things but do not observe; ears open, but do not hear. Isaiah 42:20

Many years ago, when Crash was four and The Boy only two, we traveled to Rome for a couple of weeks, so that my husband could present a paper at a conference there. While Victor worked, the two boys and I enjoyed the sights of Rome.

The shortest route to the subway stop ran through the local indoor market, a cool and colorful oasis in the soggy heat of a Roman summer. One afternoon we wove our way through the crowded Friday market and popped out onto the street to find ourselves at the edge of a crowd, all pushing and craning for a look at the street. We couldn’t turn back and couldn’t move forward. Sirens were sounding, and men were barking orders. In the confusion I turned to the man next to me and asked in halting Italian what was happening. “There’s been a bank robbery,” he said, “with guns.” I clung tightly to the boys’ hands and prayed.

I am cantoring Palm Sunday and in preparation to sing the Psalm, I spent some time earlier in the week meditating on the readings, lingering with Matthew’s version of the Passion. I began to wonder what it might have been like, had I been in Jerusalem the morning that Jesus was crucified?

Would it have been like that Friday in Rome? All noise and confusion, with very little information to be had, and no time to think before you are confronted by a difficult and frightening reality. Would I have grasped what was happening at all, understood that in the dust of Jerusalem street, lay Jesus, the Son of God, dying for my sins?

I wonder, too, how often I miss seeing Christ walking that road to the crucifixion here and now, seeing Christ, as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ put it, playing in ten thousand places. Have I learned from listening to the Passion narrative how to spot those bearing crosses, those caught up in living out the Paschal mystery through their own suffering, or do I stand there in the crowd, confused and a bit too complacent?

I watch an elderly man come into the dim church, himself a bit unsteady on his feet, holding tight to his frail wife, bearing as much of her weight as he can. I see Simon of Cyrene steadying Jesus, pulling the weight of the cross onto his own shoulders.

I see a photo of a priest standing alone before a crowd, a cross in his hands, a soldier pointing a gun behind him. I hear Jesus in St. John’s Passion, “I came to testify to the truth.”

I read of parents in the Sudan, boiling poisonous roots for their children to eat. I see the soldiers offering gall to Jesus to drink.

I will hear the Passion read twice this week, but had I eyes, I could read the Passion daily. For Christ plays in a thousand places, looking up at me from the dust where he has fallen, asking, “Do you see me? Can you hear me? Will you pick up my cross and walk with me?”

To read:
Read slowly and meditatively Mark’s account of the Passion (we will hear Matthew’s on Sunday and John’s on Friday): Mark 15:1-41

To pray:

Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever.

To listen:
The text sung here, which comes from the book of Lamentations (1:12 ), is from a response traditionally used during Holy Week:

O vos ómnes qui transítis per víam, atténdite et vidéte: Si est dólor símilis sícut dólor méus. Atténdite, univérsi pópuli, et vidéte dolórem méum. Si est dólor símilis sícut dólor méus.

O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention and see: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. Pay attention, all people, and look at my sorrow: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow.