Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Saints in the broom closet

A few weeks ago I misplaced my breviary, the one that generally I keep in my work bag, wrapped up in a furoshiki so that it does not suffer the fate of its predecessor (which disintegrated after 30 years of prayer). There had been an epic house tidy, so I thought it had just been moved to a new spot in the house. Or perhaps I'd left it on my desk at the office. Or in the back of the car. Really, it's not in the back of the car? Not in my office?

Did I leave it in the chapel? in the sacristy? No way to check as I was on and off the road, in and out of early meetings, and not at the parish in the morning. I made do with the iPad breviary and my little travel breviary. And the four volume set. All right, yes, I have...five different breviaries: a UK travel version, a US travel version, the four volume set and the one volume Christian Prayer. And the electronic one. And a couple of psalters. Lack of monastic simplicity, or simply a hunger for the psalms? You pick.

Finally back at the parish, I checked the chapel and sacristy. No luck, but several of the Augustinians remarked it had been in the chapel, then disappeared. They helped me do a quick search of the sacristy drawers and closets. No luck. Not in the music cabinet (where my breviary had once landed after being mistaken for a choir book and "put away" by a helpful choir member). Not stashed in the meditation space behind the tabernacle. Not stripped of its cover and popped into the collection of breviaries kept in a basket in the chapel.

I joked that it would reappear once I ordered a new one, but inwardly I mourned that necessity. I could let go of the book itself and its wrapper, the furoshiki bought in a small town at the head of a pilgrimage route in Japan that each time I tie it reminds of all those on pilgrimage and of friends who have walked the Camino. The grace imparted by the blessings of the book did not vanish with the volume. Even the holy cards and notes that it has collected over the years could not truly be mourned, they are just physical talismans of prayers made and promised. What I mourned was the way the book had subtly molded itself to my hand, the softness of the ribbons, shifted multiple times a day to mark the passage of hours and days and seasons. The constant reminder of the ways in which prayer had adhered to my daily life.

Stoically, I ordered a new breviary. And on the way out of morning prayer last Friday, as a friend reminded me to pray to Pope St. John XXIII (a sure-fire finder of lost things), and as I responded that I should really pray to my mother, who even after she had lost much of her sight could find almost anything, the pastor appeared around the corner triumphantly holding up my wrapped breviary.  Until that moment none of us had thought to look in the closet behind the confessional where microphones and brooms are kept. And of course that everyday book of prayer would be stored not with music for feasts or linens to safeguard the holy of holies, but with the brooms.

Thanks, Mom (who I imagined having celestial coffee with that sainted Pope John and laughingly conspiring to send a brief dusting of grace my way.)


  1. I did not know that Pope St. John XXIII was a go-to for finding lost things. Back in the days before his canonization we always prayed to St. Andrew. I don't know why, but it was remarkably effective.

  2. St. Anthony was my mother's go to for finding lost items, so maybe it was a group effort!