I have made my way to southern Arizona and will spend Holy Week here.
I was able to avail myself of Confession yesterday before the noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Tucson. In his homily, Father spoke of the Anointing of the Sick, which is wider than simply what we think of as the Last Rites: we can legitimately ask for the Sacrament any time we’re in grave or possibly grave danger. I received the Sacrament myself once many years ago when I was about to undergo breast cancer surgery.
Nonetheless, the just-in-case Sacrament, Father observed, is not the Anointing of the Sick, but rather the Eucharist. Just in case I die today, I need my viaticum: bread for the journey.
I’m in the midst of a “big” (though is anything ever really as big as we think?) life transition. Lots of traveling. Living, once again for a while, out of a suitcase. On the long drive from LA to Tucson Sunday I thought about how, like every human being, I embody multiple paradoxes. An introvert who, when with people, tends to hog the conversation; a solitary who tends toward attention junkie-dom; a follower of Christ who can be way too attached to the things of this world. I desperately long for a home, and generally stay in one apartment for years, and yet I seem always on the move: a holy restlessness.
Christ was like that, too, insofar as the restlessness. “The birds of the air have their nests, and the foxes their lairs, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Constantly he was driven on, driven forward, driven from all that was safe, secure, predictable, comfortable. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
I’m actually fairly orderly and have even become a halfway decent packer. Still, as a traveler I’m like a disheveled bird, constantly covered with crumbs, hands sticky from an overflowing Diet Coke, and am I the only person who can hardly stop for gas without a mishap? The pump eats my credit card, or the gas refuses to pump, or the gas from the previous customer has formed a puddle on the pavement in which I almost slip and fall.
No matter, I always arrive at my destination. I always manage to have the right stuff for my morning coffee, and to bathe, comb my hair and dress. This trip I have an actual prayer box with a Madonna and child candle, incense, matches, my breviary, Holy Week Magnificat, and a few choice pieces of spiritual reading. And I planned out my Holy Week Mass schedule before I left from Pasadena.
I’m in the little town of Tubac for a few nights. Yesterday late afternoon I took a walk along a volunteer-maintained stretch of the Anza Trail. Everywhere in Arizona is birdsong. Under a canopy of cottonwoods, and in the quiet, I noticed things I might not otherwise.
Today I’ll make the half-hour drive to Nogales for noon Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Because Holy Week is the most emotionally and spiritually fraught week in all the year. Because I want to be close to Christ as he enters into his Passion. And also–just in case. For my viaticum.
This is a Magnificat reflection from some long-ago Holy Week that I ripped out and saved:
“The hour overflows with supernatural power. In these last days it is as if Jesus were gathering strength on strength preparing for the ultimate. He has just summoned Lazarus from the dead. His power has accompanied the disciples into the world, so that at their word strangers entrust their flocks to them. Now triumphantly he enters Jerusalem, fulfilling to the letter the prophecy of the coming Messiah. Until then he has refused to be called the Messiah and crowned king; now he proclaims himself the long-awaited one….
This then is God’s hour; were the masses to reject it, the stones beneath their feet would proclaim the Messiah. It is the last God-given chance. Will those seized by its power also find the strength to act according to the Spirit? Will they after all force the gate of the kingdom which had seemed so hopelessly barred?…
This then is how it is when God descends to men! The apparent folly and danger of it are so great that the just and orthodox prepare for legal condemnation. The event is not even clothed in the dignity of genuine poverty. That would have also been impressive, for side by side with the power of greatness there exists the moving or august power of poverty, which stirs by its own mysterious power. But it is not genuine poverty that accompanies Jesus—neither among his disciples nor in the cheering masses. It is simply the average crowd as it is to be found everywhere in workshop, store, and street. Crowd in which we all could find our place—human reality, mediocrity bare of the pathos both of splendor and of misery.
How difficult it is to recognize the self-revealing God! How difficult to steer clear of the scandal to the worldly sense of propriety and righteousness!”
–Servant of God Monsignor Romano Guardini
Servant of God Monsignor Guardini († 1968) was born in Italy and became a renowned liturgist and professor of philosophy and theology in Germany.