Saturday, April 01, 2023

Living the Holy Saturdays of our lives

Wednesday I had my third chemotherapy session. 

I got to the clinic about 7:15 am and began chemo at about 8 am. The transfusion was finished about 8 pm and I left the clinic at about 8:30 pm. I was able to sleep a good bit this time during the chemo and our pastor, Padre German, arrived about 3: 45and stayed till the bitter end. We talked and we even did some parish work. He even brought me dinner!

But I was also able to read. God seems to be guiding my reading. (I also am grateful for Kindle.) This month two books have sustained me and helped me to live my treatments and my live with cancer with faith, hope, and love. Tomáš Halík’s Touch the Wounds: On Suffering, Trust, and Transformation, was first published in 2003 but just now translated into English. Sheila Cassidy’s Sharing the Darkness: The Spirituality of Caring, was published in 1988. 

About a week ago, I opened Seeing with the Heart: A Guide to Navigating Life's Adventures, by Kevin O’ Brien, SJ, part of which I read that afternoon. 

O’Brien has a section entitled “Not Rushing Easter,” exploring the experience of Holy Saturday. It was exactly what I needed to read.

I have been fascinated by Holy Saturday for almost all my adult years. 

In the Creed we profess that Jesus descended into Hell, a reference to his joining the faithful who had died before him. This is what many icons depict. But the moving image painted by Fra Angelico is found in the Saint Mark Monastery in Florence.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII restored the ancient tradition of celebrating the Easter Vigil after sunset on Holy Saturday.

For centuries, the Easter Vigil had been celebrated on Holy Saturday morning, called in many parts of Latin America “Sábado de Gloria,” “The Saturday of the Gloria,” probably because this was the first time since Lent when the Gloria was sung except for feasts and the Holy Thursday Mass.

Since 1955, Holy Saturday has been a day without Mass, a day with the church stripped bare (after the Good Friday liturgy), a time for morning and waiting.

This is very appropriate, because after Jesus was buried without all the religious rites of his faith, the women waited out the Sabbath, the day of rest. They went to the tomb on Sunday morning and became messengers of the Risen Lord.

Fr. Damasus Winzen, OSB, the founder of Mount Saviour, wrote a short pamphlet in 1957 on Holy Saturday, “The Great Sabbath Rest.”

I have written on this essay several times, here and here, but Fr. Damasus points to the challenge of Holy Saturday in his first paragraph:
Among the many blessings offered through the restoration of Holy Week is the pause of Holy Saturday. Since the Paschal Vigil has been moved back to its original place in the Easter night, Holy Saturday has become for the great majority a day without any liturgy. To people of the western hemisphere [rather, the northern hemisphere], always active and wanting to be kept busy, a day with nothing is a frightening prospect. Many may be inclined to consider a day without Mass and without communion a loss to their spiritual life.… 
Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ, reflecting on his personal experience, notes the importance of living the Holy Saturday moments of our lives:
Whether experienced after the death of a loved one or because of another loss, our suffering usually includes some form of loneliness or emptiness. Some years ago, I left a ministry I loved, and experienced a deep loneliness in the months of transition. Surely the loneliness was tied to the sadness of leaving friends I’d grown close to, but it was more than that. There was a stripping away of identity: a familiar role, a record of accomplishment, a comfortable routine—all those things we can rely on too heavily for a sense of self-worth. For me, this time in my life was a “Holy Saturday moment.” In the Catholic liturgy, Holy Saturday is the day after Good Friday and before Easter Sunday. Churches are left bare. No Mass is celebrated. Quiet pervades. (p. 144)
Sometimes I just want to jump over Good Friday and Holy Saturday to get to Easter. But, as Fr. O’Brien notes:
Enduring the pain of our Good Fridays or the emptiness of our Holy Saturdays is not easy. The temptation to run away, to anesthetize or insulate ourselves from the pain, is understandable but not helpful in the end. Although we should avoid unnecessary suffering, we do well to tend to, even befriend, our suffering. (p. 145)
Many times, I want the chemo to end as soon as possible so I can return to normal. (But then I remember Bruce Cockburn’s song, “The Trouble with Normal is that it always gets worse.”) 

How then to live in Holy Saturday? 

That may be my Holy Week question. 

Yet, God at times sends us messages to help us live in faith and hope. On March 30, the anniversary of the 1990 death of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, I encountered again his amazing quote – which now makes complete sense to me:
"When I first found out I had cancer, I didn’t know what to pray for. I didn’t know if I should pray for healing or life or death. Then I found peace in praying for what my folks call 'God’s perfect will.' As it evolved, my prayer has become, 'Lord, let me live until I die.' By that I mean I want to live, love, and serve fully until death comes. If that prayer is answered . . . how long really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s just a few months or a few years is really immaterial."
Lord, let me live until I die.

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