Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Follow Me

Head of St. Peter
St. Peter Chapel, Cathedral
of St. Paul
St. Paul, MN
      I often stop at the Cathedral of St. Paul when I have some spare time and pray in the St. Joseph chapel, on the north side near the main entrance. When I say pray, I mean I kneel or sit quietly and strive to maintain a receptive attitude toward the Holy Spirit, in all feebleness and need. I do not pray because I am holy; I pray in the realization that I am not holy. I may say a few prayers for persons or other intentions that come to mind. I may say some Hail Mary’s if I am troubled with resentments or other vexations; I may recite the Jesus prayer to calm myself if my mind is churning with noise. However, mostly I am trying to keep a kind of watch. I look and listen interiorly for the sign of something moving lightly among the delusions of my every-day consciousness. Occasionally I will receive a moment of exceptional clarity of mind. It might be verbally articulate, almost like an instruction; or it may be some interior illumination that doesn’t bend to articulation. Sometimes these experiences provide help with some difficulty I am having in some area of my life; sometimes they leave me with a peaceful or hopeful feeling. Sometimes they startle me uncomfortably into greater wakefulness, having cast light on things I’ve kept in the dark. Some days, if I come in the afternoon before evening Mass, I will hear the group that recites the rosary in the St. Mary chapel on the opposite side, their voices murmuring in the rhythm of the prayer, something like holy white noise. On the rare occasion I am there in the morning after Mass, I will hear a group of devotees singing and chanting Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
      One mid-morning after sitting like this I rose and as I walked away from the chapel it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard any voices or footsteps for some time. I walked out into the main part of the sanctuary and it looked like I was all alone in the cathedral. There was no one in sight and no sound of any movement. Even quiet movements rustle and echo in that vast interior. I detected nothing stirring beyond the bronze grilles set in a half circle behind the high altar. The bronze crucifix and the golden tabernacle rested under the baldachin. At the four corners where the transept intersects the nave, and where the four main piers uphold the dome, stand the twice as large as life statues of the four evangelists. It was a peculiar sensation to have this ornate richness to myself, like having my room to myself when a boy, daydreaming, fifty-five years ago. But what a room this was! I was humbled, sized proportionally in spirit as I was physically to the great building; yet also it seemed the right size, neither too big nor too small, and theologically correct as well. As He would have died just for me, had I been the only sinner, so He saw fit to regale me privately for a moment, in the house made for love of Him, because He delighted to do so. That’s all.
      For all that, the cathedral is something made for Him, and obviously not Christ Himself. What He delights to give is passing away with the rest of my life; His intention is that I follow Him, and not remain where I am.
Blaze, 11 x 14, oil on panel
Copyright Peter Bougie 2007 private collection
      I have had a similar sensation at times while painting in front of nature, where He is present in his creation which, I imagine, if we could see it as He sees it, would not look anything like it does to us. I paint the observations of three or six or twenty or forty hours. No two moments are the same; distinct incidents define each one. I observe some of these incidents and make a resemblance to nature, something others recognize as a likeness of what they see. It looks like a moment but is really the sum of many moments. He sees a river in its valley or a forest or an ocean like we might see it if we were able to make some sort of time lapse photograph spanning eons of time, and even then, our film would only show the outward appearances of things. It would not show all the weaver birds weaving nests, worms burrowing or the ten thousand times twenty scurryings in leaf litter occurring in one acre, or sap rising in trees, or osmosis through cell membranes, or the process of photosynthesis exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide a billion billion times, or so I suppose. He sees not only the contrails when the flight has passed, but the landing, the takeoff, the serving of refreshments, the manufacture of the airplane, the whole flight history of the crew, the vanities and conceits of all aboard, the slightest variances in instrument readings from reality, and the anxiety of the traveler far from home. Even the hairs on our heads are counted, but generally not by us.
Contrails, 12 x 16, oil on panel
Copyright 2012 Peter Bougie private collection
      I paint my picture, and as I am fond of saying, if it is any good at all it’s as if He answers me and says “That’s not bad, kid. [I am not a kid to anyone but Him anymore] Now let’s see if you can hit the curve ball.” So, he throws it low and away and I reach for it; he throws it high and tight and I corkscrew myself into the ground. 
      I also sometimes pray in the St. Peter chapel, south of the high altar. I usually do penance there after receiving absolution following confession. How do I know I am absolved from my sins? How do I know the priest is in persona Christi, as far as the Sacrament is concerned? What did Jesus mean when he said, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” ? [John 20:23] Did he give the apostles the authority to forgive sins, or not? When the apostles laid hands on their successors, did they transmit the authority transmitted to them, or not?
St. Peter Chapel
Cathedral of St. Paul
St. Paul, MN
      I always feel thankful in that chapel, and optimistic at the feet of Peter. He could blunder and bluster and even betray Jesus, yet have contrition, and be called a saint. It was part of our Lord's intention to arrange things that way. When Peter first met Jesus and had heard Him speak, he answered his command: Master, we have fished all night and caught nothing; but if you say so, we will cast out our nets. And Peter thought, these teachers – He gets into my boat and tells me how to fish. Who does he think he is? And then the nets are full to bursting, and Peter makes his first act of contrition: Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. [paraphrasing Luke 5: 1-8]
      But He would not depart from Peter, and He will not depart from us. Look for him on the water, in the dark, like a ghost, or asleep on a pillow in the stern; or standing alone before the Sanhedrin, falsely accused, and no one speaks in his behalf.
      You, He says, follow me.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written; deep sentiment. It's almost as though I am in that space with you.