Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Column: Lovely in eyes not his

The faces, everyone's faces. That's what I will remember from the Papal Mass on the Parkway this weekend.  Christ, lovely in eyes not his.  The sister caught singing on the Jumbotron, her eyes closed, her face alight. The smile of the man sitting on cardboard on Market Street, watching the pilgrims head out toward the parkway, as memorable as Pope Francis' smile.  And a brief glimpse of my own first born son on the big screen, with a seat all the way up front, singing the psalm.

Hopkins' poem, When Kingfishers Catch Fire, and Jeremiah's prophetic words kept running through my mind all day.  I had to pay careful attention to sign posts and road markers — at one point I lost Crash in the crowd, even having marked our place (between Latvia and Lebanon on the inner drive).  As I stood there scanning the crowd, someone asked me if I needed help finding someone.  Soon I had a team peering at Crash's photo on my phone and looking for him. And they found him.  Not 10 feet away.

While there are more traditional reading of Hopkins out there (male, British accents), this chanted polyphonic version by female vocalists  felt truest to his style.

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 29 September 2015.

Hear the word of the Lord, you nations,
proclaim it on distant coasts, and say:
The One who scattered Israel, now gathers them;
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.

Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the Lord’s blessings…
— Jeremiah 31: 10,12a

A thousand priests and deacons began to wend their way from the altar on Eakins Oval out into the parkway. As I watched the steady line of men in white, their companions holding bright white and yellow umbrellas over their heads, carry the Eucharist to the waiting crowd, this line from the 31st chapter of Jeremiah ran through my head: “They shall come streaming to the Lord’s blessings.”

“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working the Spirit,” said Pope Francis in his Sunday homily. “It shows us that … holiness is always tied to little gestures.” This morning, I went back and read all of the 31st chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, letting its images wash over my memories of all the little gestures that pointed to God’s presence during this extraordinary weekend.

In it, God speaks of the families of Israel, loved and showered with his mercy. We are an enduring structure, God tells Jeremiah. Living stones, literally holding each other up as we waited hours along the barricade around Independence Mall for the pope to drive by, that lifted children high to see Francis’ motorcade. We shared chairs when we were too tired to stand, and water when we were thirsty.

“Carrying your festive tambourines, you shall go forth dancing,” proclaims the Lord. Representatives of the Neocatechumenal Way from the U.S. and Tanzania led dancing across the mall in the morning, and the festive tambourines of a delegation from Puerto Rico kept time as we sang in the afternoon, welcome counterpoints to being packed into long lines, and a soundscape of sirens.

“Set up road markers, put up signposts; Turn your attention to the highway, the road you walked,” cries the Lord. As I made my way back to the El, I thought about Pope Francis’ question, “What about you?” What should I turn my attention to as I go forth from this celebration? What about me? What will I take from these days?

Two things to start. A deep sense of the unity of believers, and of our shared responsibility for each other in the small things. And the eyes to see the people that that came streaming to receive the blessings of these days, Christ playing in ten thousand places, lovely in all those eyes not his.

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