by Fr. Denis Lemieux.
“The glamour is gone.” As I woke up yesterday, slowly and painfully crawling up from unconsciousness, this thought arose, unbidden and incomprehensible from some depth of my subconscious mind. It was the first waking thought of my day.
Truthfully, it made me laugh, which for me is no small thing first thing in the morning.
Life in Madonna House gets described many ways: as exciting, demanding, challenging, joyful, peaceful, boring, monotonous, irritating, etc. But glamorous? Outdoor jons, manual labor, vegetarian cuisine, and a virtually unchanging daily routine of work/prayer/family life do not exactly add up to “glamorous.”
It’s all very nice, and I love my Madonna House vocation, in all its ordinariness, but glamour? So much for my subconscious mind.
But the thought stayed with me throughout the day. Our foundress Catherine certainly never talked about glamour in connection with Madonna House life. Indeed, she stressed how ordinary our life is, how often we would know “gray days” and monotony in our fidelity to the duty of the moment.
However, she did speak—often and eloquently—about the glory of our vocation, which is quite a different matter. Beneath the sameness, the routine, the monotony of daily living the Gospel in Nazareth, she would tell us, lay a hidden glory, a splendor of God flashing out.
Now seen, now hidden (mostly hidden), but occasionally bursting out: the glory of love, God’s perfect love for us, and our frail love for him and one another, lighting up the grayness of life like lightning flashing across the sky.
No glamour, but something deeper, something surer, something more substantial and more real—Jesus Christ in our midst, the crucified and victorious Lord, whose love has opened heaven for us and lifted us from the hopelessness and futility of human striving.
All of which brings us to Palm Sunday, which is the topic I was asked to write about.
A Glamour Moment
On Palm Sunday we see Jesus entering Jerusalem having what could be called, “a glamour moment.” If there had been paparazzi around in the first century, they’d have been there, no question, jostling each other, trying to get that perfect snapshot of the Great Wonder-Worker of Galilee in all his glory, entering the holy city to shouts of Hosanna, palm branches a-waving on all sides.
He was a spectacle, a “grand opening” of sorts, I guess. Whatever else we can say about the Lord (and, of course, we have lots to say), he certainly knew how stage the great dramatic moment. The grand opening of the drama of the Passover, the world premiere of God’s great opus, God’s masterwork, God’s very own Passion, directed, not by Mel Gibson, but by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This was glamour! This was exciting! But in our Palm Sunday liturgy, just as it was then in Jerusalem, it all changes very rapidly. Suddenly the glamour is gone, as if it never was, and a different kind of spectacle takes its place.
Spittle. Blows. Insults and mockery. The crowd screaming for a victim. Blood. Wounds. Nails. Death. The glamour is gone, but something else is there—under the horror, under the ugliness, under the tragedy and evil and pain. Glory? Could it be? Is it possible?
Is glory really there? How we answer that question largely determines how we see our own lives in all their ordinariness.
Our lives, of course, are very ordinary, in Madonna House or anywhere else—in family life, work life, rectory life, convent life. I don’t think too many people live what could be called “glamorous” lives.
But is there glory in our daily lives? From time to time this question arises here in Madonna House. We are virtually “Spirit of Nazareth Inc.,” committed to preaching and living the gospel of ordinary life—shot through, our faith tells us—with God’s presence and love, redeemed and sanctified by the incarnate life of God in Christ. But we do question it.
In the face of one more day, one more week, one more year of slogging on in the same old chores, in the face of disappointments, failures, lack of results, as the years add up and the gray hairs begin to outnumber the dark, we do question it.
Above all, in the face of our sins, our seeming inability to live the Gospel in its fullness, we do question it.
Do you? Do you question whether or not God is really imparting the hidden glory of his victory, his love, his beauty, to your life in its specific, concrete details? In all its grayness, darkness, failures, compromises, and mess?
Maybe it’s OK to question it. Maybe it’s even good to question it. For there comes a time in every life when the glamour (for whatever it was worth) is gone. Is there anything deeper to replace it? Are you there, God? Are you here? We long to see your face, O Lord. We need to see your glory.
When I began to write this article, my plan had been, at the end of the article, to write some expression of faith in the Resurrection, the victory of Christ over all of the above, the assurance that we truly have in his Word and Sacrament of his presence, and of the hope of glory that it provides.
But now I don’t think I will. This is an article about Palm Sunday, not Easter. And the mystery of Palm Sunday is the juxtaposition between the excitement and the enthusiasm of the Lord’s “glamorous” entry into Jerusalem and the utter degradation and horror of his Passion and Death.
Most of us live most of our lives somewhere within this juxtaposition, somewhere between these two extremes. Most of the time we are neither utterly swept away by the enthusiasm of following Jesus, nor are we living in the utter suffering and darkness of Calvary. Most of the time we are somewhere in between.
And the question remains. Is Jesus here? Is he with us? Does he walk with us through the gray days, through the sameness of life, through the ordinary ups and downs, through the victories and defeats we experience?
Is the glory of God, the hidden splendor of love, the flashing forth of the beauty of the Trinity—is it here, now, veiled beneath the surface of things, but no less real for that fact? Is this the underlying truth of our lives?
Our answer to this question determines everything about how we live. It determines how and whether we can find peace, joy, hope, strength to endure, grace to love, and enough faith to sustain us for a lifetime.
I’m not going to try to answer that question for you. (That’s not my job!) Instead, let’s jump ahead to another stage in the great drama of Holy Week.
Let’s go to the empty tomb. There, like Mary, each of us has to wait in the silence and emptiness of our hearts until we encounter the only One who can answer that question, the One who can give us our hearts’ desires—the Glorious One, who is at the heart of the world.
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