I love going to Mass, for it is a time to reflect on the last week and consider the week to come. It is a time to repent and be forgiven. It is a time to receive God’s life giving power.
This last week was a week of saints, ending with Saint James the Apostle today.
And as a week of saints, it was a week of lovely moments piercing the ordinary day. I was looking forward to Thursday’s Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, for I had recently visited the Provencal region where she is said to have spent her last days. I reflected on the four days we were given in the Var – Bouches-du-Rhone region of France, collecting experiences, sights and sounds, tastes and scents, in this lovely wine country east of Marseilles, north of Toulon, for my novel-in-progress, The Magdalene Mystery.
I recalled the crystal crisp blue-sky morning after a week of rain and the drive through the vineyards to the base of the broad limestone massif, the hike up the wide pilgrimage path to Mary’s grotto and chapel. The trail was luminescent with sun refracting off broad leaves and I can hear even now the birds singing as we passed through their land, the slight breeze rustling the ancient forest foliage. The 11:00 Mass began on time in the damp, dripping cave, and the young white-robed Dominican preached an enthusiastic sermon in French. It was an experience of transcendence in the cool dark as candles flamed and a few faithful sang the responses.
This last Thursday, the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, I imagined the cave with its crowd of pilgrims that had processed up the mountain to honor the saint on her day. I hope it was joyous at the Grotto of La Sainte-Baume and later as the pilgrims gathered in the valley in St. Maximin’s Cathedral, dressed in traditional Provencal costumes. Mary’s relics rest in the dark crypt below, sanctifying the church, part of the amazing mystery of this saint, for who she was and who she was not has become part of my present search.
I was sorry to miss the pageantry and devotion of those faithful in southern France, but was cheered with an email from my friend, Sister Emanuela of the Sisters of Divine Revelation in Rome, an order that runs the small gift shop in St. John Lateran and have an active teaching ministry. I had asked Sr Emanuela if she would take a few photos of the cloister at the basilica there, where, I had read, there had once been a shrine to Mary Magdalene. And there, on Thursday, Mary’s day, the photos appeared on my screen: photos of the cloister and the altar pieces remaining from the thirteenth century shrine. Many thanks, Sister Emanuela! So I proceeded to write my scene set in the Lateran cloisters, my little part in the honoring of Mary Magdalene.
Today in Saint Peter’s Church, Oakland, I thought of these things and then turned my attention to Saint James the Apostle. Since James was martyred (early, 42-43 AD, the first Apostle to be martyred) the vestments and tabernacle drapes were blood red and the church flamed crimson in glorious homage to this devoted fisherman. The Gospel told of Christ’s question to James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” Indeed, I thought, the Apostles did drink of His cup, and just so, our preacher exhorted, we are called to do the same, for while we may not be called to give up our lives (although many do this today in our world), we are called to sacrificial self-giving in the observance of His law, way, and cross.
The first century folded into the twenty-first and we sang I sing a song of the Saints of God…, the charming children’s hymn, and as I drank from Christ’s Eucharistic cup, I prayed I too could offer myself as the saints had done and still do, as Mary Magdalene did in Southern Provence, as James, son of Zebedee, brother of John, had done, until the day that Herod Antipas killed him with the sword.
I left Saint Peter’s with joy, knowing if I listened I would hear God’s voice, that He held me close to Him. He would guide me through the week to come, another big saints week: Anne, Martha, Ignatius of Loyola.