Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Our Lady's Statue

ONE SPRING YEARS ago now, I stood talking with a CCD class of sixth graders. At least three of them were obviously well past the expiration of the effects of their meds for the day. "Bouncing off the walls," as they say. Having two clinically diagnosed ADHD sons myself, I knew the signs. They were seeming stunt doubles for bat boy, and just as attentive. But I glanced out of the Catholic school basement window to the small courtyard. There stood a lovely and serene statue of Our Lady of Grace.

In an instant of insight I knew why I was glad to be there with an unruly, indifferent class of sixth graders who would rather be home playing video games waiting for dinner. It was the sense of antiquity associated with statuary, heroism, sacrifice, and a culture not entirely of this world.

Tolkien knew this, too, of course. He could tell his son,
Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children - from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn - open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand - after which [our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)
The Catholic Church is not a transcendent Gift from Our Lord because of the people, high and low, who populate it. The Catholic Church is that grand, shimmering Vessel cutting through the storms and high seas of history promised to St. Peter, his Vicar; that she would not succumb to the Gates of Hades (Mtt 16, 18), nor be swamped (Mk 4, 37-41), but bear Our Lord's sacramental Real Presence until He comes again (Mtt 28,20).

Like Elrond's Rivendell, the statues, the monuments, the ageless Liturgy are the bedrock and foundation of faith, the stuff of legends, the absolutely needful place of repose and mission and chivalry for us poor mortals.

I did not despair teaching those sixth graders. Instead, I used clips from Peter Jackson's film version of Tolkien's master opus to illustrate catechetical points. I also recalled a very young Athos who was isolated from the other children during Sunday School class because I was rambunctious (ADHD wasn't invented yet).

And I looked out the basement classroom window up at Our Lady's statue.

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