Monday, February 05, 2007

Deus, in adiutorium meum (et suum) intende....

Some of you might remember my "note to self" about returning to the Breviary the other day. Well, it ended up becoming more proof -- as if I needed any -- of the ways of Providence (not of the Rhode Island kind).

Beyond the beautiful reading from the Office for the feast of Don Bosco, I put the notation up with Friday's feast of the Presentation in mind. That day marked 12 years since I bought the one-volume Christian Prayer and said my first solo Vespers (for those bad at math, I was 12 and in 7th grade).

If I can remember the milestones of 300-plus bishops, it'd be a little weird to forget my own, right?

Given that my prayer habits have never been anything to write home about (grace has had quite a time attempting to make something of my nature), it didn't make me any holier or anything (however much I've tried), but I've long maintained a special love for the Liturgy of the Hours and kept at its practice as best I could through middle and high school, only to slack off amidst the discombobulated and ever-changing daily scheduling that is, in a word, college. (For those unfamiliar with the Office, the basics and then some are available at, which has been providing this immense service for quite some time.)

If, for once, I could show my liturgical hand, I've always been keen to see the Hours take on a more prominent place in ecclesial life beyond religious houses and into the parishes, shrines, and most especially cathedral churches. Not that I'll ever be in any position to effect this, of course, but the cycle of psalms, canticles, readings and intercessions is too worthy a treasure to be hidden amongst the few -- not to mention that, with due regard for the traditional practices of popular piety, it is the Office that enjoys pride of place as the public prayer of the church and the extension of the Eucharistic celebration into the rest of the day. (End of sermon.)

So, I fell off the Breviary Wagon, partly due to sloth, partly due to having lost a volume or two along the way. (It wasn't long after buying the one-volume that, being possessed of a hard-charging "go for broke" streak (surprised?), I upgraded to the full, four-book set, in colored vinyl.) And this was my excuse, which I'd sometimes mention to friends, half-jokingly, half hoping to find the momentum to be able to climb back on.

If you're fading, stick with me -- believe it or not, this post is going somewhere. I think. Trust me, and just hang on.

Early last week, I checked in with the home office, and was told that a package from a friend -- a priest, a reader, and one of those great minds and even greater unsung souls who keep the church alive and present -- had arrived. I thought about what could've been inside for a second, then got sucked into something else and promptly forgot about it.

Arriving back in town on Saturday night, I started rifling through the mail that had piled up to find the package.... Suffice it to say, it contained much more than I could've expected.

For starters, there were lots of those styrofoam things that look like figure "8"s, and with those you've gotta be careful that they don't go spilling onto the floor, for then you've got your work cut out for you.

Tucked in the midst of them was an envelope containing two pieces of paper, two e.mails.

Of course, everyone reads an attached card or letter before opening a gift, right? Just in case that's not universal, I'm one of those who does -- it's only proper and, on a less virtuous level, it ups the suspense quotient.

End of humor.

The e.mails (which, for some reason, I hadn't previously received) were enough to mentally place whatever else was inside -- supposedly, the "bigger" part of the delivery -- not just on the back burner, but out of sight.

Around Christmas, after experiencing some troubling symptoms, the Good Father had been diagnosed with an agressive form of cancer which, when discovered, was found to be at an alarmingly advanced stage. Dated 26 January, he scribbled a note at the bottom in his impeccable hand, but that wasn't enough to keep my heart from dropping.

You see, more than just sometimes among the readership, I feel less like a lonely scribe than something akin to the pastor of a parish. I was able to dodge that burdensome cup in reality, but so many of you have been so good and warm as to bring these pages and their narrator into your lives and tell me your stories that, when it comes to those who've reached out to me along this ride, I have nothing but affection, admiration and esteem in spades.

It's a group that spans ages, nations, ideological factions and states of life under the Big Tent of Mother Church, but each of the readers I've come to know is an example of selfless devotion, a cherished reminder of how truly far behind I am on the one path that counts, and a presence of confident hope that things out there are never as despair-worthy as some both intra et extra murem would make them out to be. Along those lines, distressing news from any of these fellow-travelers -- but a handful of those who, far from the limelight and with great love, write the story of the church everyday in the lives of the people who need it the most -- is more than enough to get my concern up.

It was a half-hour 'til midnight. As I knew his compline had long been past, a frantic call to see what was going on was out of the question, however much I might've wanted to make it.

After a bit of dialing around in the morning, I got to his mobile and left a message. I breathed a sigh of relief to find an e.mail reply shortly thereafter, but with more news: he's heading in for a third surgery today. So please, please, keep a place for our good guy and dear brother -- and all those suffering crises and suffering of body, mind or spirit -- in your prayers and hearts. Depending on how things shake out, I might have to skip town again this week, this time for purposes bigger than this work, yet derived from the same place that motivates it and has given these pages life despite every sane expectation and reason.

If you'll forgive the sermonizing, it might be that we all need to notch up a spirit of rallying around our own a bit more than we currently do. Sure, we join arms to stand with those nearby, those in the comfort of our factions or others for whom it's relatively convenient or fashionable to reach out to. But that's not where the challenge, or the Christianity, lies. It's easier than ever, whatwith the ubiquitous phones, e.mail, webcams, etc. to connect, to share a bit of time, to bring someone in and to allow ourselves to be brought in by one who could use the friendship and company. However, with the multiplication of the gadgetry and the quickening of communication, more than just sometimes we find ourselves too frazzled, too booked-up, connected to the point of a disconnection that fails to reach below the surface and into the substance, i.e. the place where the magic happens.

I make these observations as someone who's terribly guilty of the lapses thereof, and then some -- Candlemas having come and gone, it seems my Christmas cards will remain in their boxes, unwritten and unsent. Working on this rough edge is at the top of the mountain of things I need to tackle, and I'm fairly sure I'm all by my lonesome in that.

Last week, I was able to join in a Mass for a group of retired and ill priests in their infirmary. Incredible week that it was, it was this experience that took the cake as the most heartwarming. Several had to be wheeled in, a couple were on oxygen, one good soul had to be woken up to receive the Eucharist -- words won't do it justice, you just had be there. But I couldn't help but think that in that room existed a strength and wealth that could only be seen with the eyes of faith. The concelebrants may have appeared to be lacking the vigor of their younger days, but as many trails of goodness, strength and nourishment ran through that place as there were veterans of the trenches in it, and the reservoirs of their work and their belief continue to flow to people and places they'll never see or know.

More than in any other way, we all join with these guys, with each other and with all the rest in a daily renewal of our communion of mind and heart. And, now, it seems last week's intention was granted retroactively: this time bound in black leather, page-ends leafed in gold, inside the package was a new four-volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours.

At long last, my time of excuses for not getting back on the Breviary Wagon is up. So, given my prayer habits, here goes nothin'... but may it one day turn out to be somethin'.

God love you all, thanks as always for reading -- and, again, please keep my friend especially in your prayers today.