Monday, March 29, 2010

Stay With Me

(In which Michael goes on a theological wandering which may or may not be accurate in the eyes of those who are far wiser than he happens to be. Thus take it with a grain of salt.)

I now have two songs with that particular title in my ITunes Library. One is by Clint Mansell and appears in Darren Aronofsky's film "The Fountain" and is heartbreaking to hear. The other is a Taizé chant that I first heard at Catholic U on Holy Thursday when we moved the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle in St. Vincent's over to the Altar of Repose in St. Paul's Chapel in Caldwell Hall. If the first song, without words, accurately captures a feeling of desperation an individual feels as the already almost impossible chance of saving his or her loved one becomes more and more eclipsed by the hard and terrifying reality of the situation at hand, the second one in 10 words nearly perfectly depicts what I can imagine Jesus feeling during the Agony in the Garden. This simple chant has been and remains part of what I associate with a fruitful Holy Week and Triduum.

Stay with me, remain here with and pray. It seems a very simple request. The Apostles come across as being pretty stupid, insensitive, and unobservant a whole lot of the time. And, you know, perhaps rightly so. It's hard to be attentive to the needs of somebody, even a loved one, when you don't understand what they are experiencing or why. Of course, in this case, the what is taken care of because Jesus reveals at least thrice that He's gonna be turned over and killed. Oh, silly Apostles.

I have at least three tangents here. The first is probably the one that I've thought about the most. There's a phrase we use in Catholicism: "Mystical Body of Christ." That'd be the Church (well, Augustine would call it the actual Body, actually, and Berengar changed everything, but let's ignore this history of the terminology for now). Paul talks about the Church being a body. Even in secular areas, we have Volunteer Corps, the Corps of Discover (that was a while ago, granted), corporations, and all of these have "Corp" as their root. "Body." There's a connectedness that goes beyond just amity, enmity, or general knowledge. Each component is a part of the whole, not quite a full thing on its own, though it has its own name. In the case of the Church, we have Christ as the head and we are a body IN Him. Pope Benedict made the assertion that Christ not only broke through the confines of death in His Resurrection, but He broke the barrier of "Other". Thus it was that the Holy Spirit came after He ascended and the Apostles shared in One Spirit. Thus it was that when the devout and fervent Jew Saul was knocked off his horse, the voice in the blinding light asked not, "Why do you persecute my followers?" but "Why do you persecute ME?" Thus it was that Jesus said in Matthew 25 "Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me." Thus Blessed Theresa of Calcutta talks about seeing Christ's face in the poorest of the poor, Bonaventure blurs the distinction between Francis, Jesus, and each of us. It's thusly that in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick we look at those with injury and illness as sharing and being with Christ in His own suffering and that we, the rest of the Church, strive to be Christ the healer and supporter. It's because of this that taking Communion is both accepting Christ's sacrifice and agreeing, "Yes, I am a part of the Body of Christ." It's a cornerstone (at least in my mind) of sacramental theology, and beyond that, of what it means to be a Christian.

In that mindset, I have joked about how here in the Ciudad I have the opportunity to see the face of Christ every day in at least 35 different people. And every day I have the opportunity to tell Jesus that if he doesn't stop trying to pull my arm hair that for some reason fascinates him more than pretty much anything and do his homework, bad, bad things will happen to him. Joking aside, the opportunity is there for each of us in every day to be with somebody in their dark hours. People don't always let on, and you might not ever know that you've been there for somebody, but you'd be amazed what taking the split-second longer and mustering the emotional effort required to give somebody an authentic smile and greeting as you pass by can do. In my mind, the reality of life is that we are IN Gethsemane daily, both trying to cope with our own burdens and trying to remain with Him in remaining with others, even if it's just staying awake, or watching, or praying. Would that we had the awareness and the disposition to remain awake and to see who remains awake with us! Because in both ways, Jesus is there. Daily, though especially in the threshold of the holiest hours in the Liturgical Year, one can hear the heart-shattering plea of Christ in both His human self and in the members of His Mystical Body (everybody): "Stay with me, Remain here with me. Watch and pray."

The second tangent has a bridge in the first. Time is a funny thing. I find it interesting that people use the threat of Hell or a Final Judgment to get people to act in a better manner, that at the end of all things, some jacked Arian Jesus (to see the Upper Church of the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception tell it, that is) with an angry face will judge us. I mean, I am of the conviction that there will be end-times, that He will come and be Judge. But as incentive, I am not sure how I feel. The more I experience of time, the more I feel that time itself is incentive. The more it slips through my fingers, the more I see that the life of man on earth is no more than a passing breath, how it never goes as quickly or as slowly as I want it to, how 7.5 months have already passed here, how even though I want time to move quickly so that the weekend comes I don't want my time here to come to such a quick end, etc., the more I realize that the only passivity I can afford is that of making myself disposed to listen to the Spirit that speaks insistently to my even-more stubborn and insistent and willfully deaf soul. Of course, that makes me question why I'm sitting on my butt for such a long time writing a blog post, but I'll ignore that for the moment and you can call me out on hypocrisy later, dear reader.

Regardless, I feel like what Jesus says about the Kingdom of God is right on (I mean, I guess it would be, believing that Jesus is, you know, the 2nd person in the Trinity): The Kindgom of God is AT HAND. The question is taking the time to live in the now, realize that the present is the canvas for painting the future, refining the past, and a picture in and of itself, and whether we choose to listen to the Spirit (this also involves learning how to listen) and the voice crying out "Stay with me!" It is now, and whether we take the time to have our eyes open to what the now entails (as far as we are able) in large part determines whether we live in joy and hope or despair.

The third tangent...deserves its own post, perhaps to be posted during Triduum. It's to much its own thing and this post is far longer than I intended, anyway. Happy Semana Santa, I hope it is a fruitful time for all of you.


  1. Right on, dude. I taught this Taize chant in English and Spanish to the sixth grade class at Maureen Courtney when we were talking about La Oración en el Huerto. Your reflection reminds me of something I read once in a book called A Body Knows. The author observed that though we know Christ is risen and calling us to "practice resurrection" (to use Wendell Berry's phrase), most of us, because of the suffering we experience, are living in a perpetual Holy Saturday, holding vigil together in anxious hope for resurrection. As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, lately I've been feeling like we are living in perpetual Good Friday. Sometimes it seems the world never lets Jesus come down from the cross.

    I really agree with you about the Communion being a celebration of the body of Christ. That's why it hurt so much when a priest specifically instructed me not to take Communion at his Mass because I wasn't Catholic. It felt like he was saying I had no place in the Body of Christ.

  2. Also, your traditional preface to your theological statements reminds me of this comic: