My three children follow this blog. They correct me when I am wrong. In fact, just last night I received a mild admonishment from my son. Nevertheless, they encourage me to go on. They pray for me always. Today, this post is for them.
February 15th will be the anniversary of your grandfather’s death. February 18th will be Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. These two events are strangely intertwined and they tell us something about who we are as a family. Let me explain by telling three short stories. You may think of them as Lenten meditations – in a sense that is what they are. It might be better though, to think of them merely as considerations, just as our discussions around the dinner table were when all three of you were still at home.
Consideration One: Your Mom and I visited the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores thirteen years ago. It was mid-March, with rainy days and sharp, cold winds from the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. The birthplace of your great grandfather spoke to us in many ways, through its culture, its food, and its sense of the sacred. Lent was all around us. It was in the churches, in the way of dress, and everywhere on the streets.
The Romieros, the Pilgrims of Lent, were passing by, always with staffs in hand and the words of the Holy Rosary ever on their lips. We had the good fortune to join them in saying a Rosary inside the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca, close to the famous statue Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles). In some small way we had shared in their pilgrimage – it was such a very small way.
Since the 16th Century, these groups of Catholics, during Lent, visit all the churches and hermitages where the image of Mary is venerated. This takes eight full days. Each Pilgrim wears a wool kerchief on their head, a shawl to protect them from bad weather. Their possessions include a bag with food, a walking stick, and a Rosary. They sing and pray the Rosary along the way. The aims of the Pilgrims are to make penitence for their sins and those of others and to beg for the blessings of God over the Azores and Portugal. This pilgrimage is not for all. Here are the general Conditions to be a Pilgrim:
“The man can only be accepted to perform this kind of penitence if he is over ten and under fifty years old, healthy and with good moral reputation; if he obeys the ten commandments of the Holy Church, if he has a spirit of obedience in order to accept all orders given to him and accept without any doubts the severity of his penitence.”
My father never spoke of this tradition to me, though I’m sure he knew of it. It is likely that your Mom and I knelt very close to where my grandfather and his father prayed together many years ago. This is a tradition passed from the older generation to the younger. For them it was a joy to acknowledge their sins and perform penance.
Unfortunately, moving to America and the effort expended to make a new home and a new way of life weakened many traditions of great spiritual value. Sometimes, they are lost forever and even the Faith itself can be lost. That is why your Mom and I have tried to establish family traditions based in the life of the spirit.
How many times have we made trips together and we prayed the Rosary? How many times has someone in the family been sick and we prayed the Rosary? How many times have we discussed that Lent is not giving up chocolate, but building up the spirit?
This Lent, Mom and I might not go anywhere, but we will make a pilgrimage. It will not be the pilgrimage of the Romieros, but we will acknowledge our sins and perform penance as they do and we shall pray the Rosary. I know that you will be joining us along the way.
Consideration Two: There were times when my father was far from the Church. In some ways he had grown lax and put other things first. There were times when your father was far from the Church. In some ways he had grown lax and put other things first.
When my father had his first heart attack in 1968, he was forced to quit his job and spend time alone while my mother went to work. It was just he and our old tom cat and one other thing – a Rosary. I don’t know why he picked it up and used it. We had never prayed a Rosary together, we had never spoken about the Rosary at all. In his last few years on this Earth, he prayed that Rosary many times. When my mother gave it to me after my father’s death in 1974, the beads were worn, one was missing. On the back was an inscription we seldom see today: “I am a Catholic in case of an accident notify a priest”.
My father’s journey back to his Faith was a long one but it led him to peace as he neared death. Perhaps he was never really that far away. He did make the sacrifice to send me to Catholic schools and encouraged me to study and learn what the nuns had to teach me. Whatever the reason, he did come back. Christ’s saving grace is always offered to us. We just have to accept it and then follow Him. Lent is the perfect time to do just that.
Consideration Three: Many have seen the painting “Os Emigrantes” by Domingos Rebelo, a famous painter from Sao Miguel in the Azores. In that painting he captured the emotion of those who left Sao Miguel, bound for America. I often imagine a scene like that when I think of your great grandparents.
Rebelo created a lesser known painting that is the focus of Consideration Three. I do not know the name of this painting, but I do know its inspiration. As the Romieros walk the many miles repenting of their sins, and as my father prayed his Rosary and regained his Faith (our Faith) and peace, there is that final consideration about reaching the end of our earthly lives.
Jesus Christ established his Church to assist men to come to salvation. He instituted seven Sacraments as signs to give grace. In one Sacrament he gives Himself to us in a special way – He is truly present in the Eucharist. The Rebelo painting captures the moment in a man’s last days when the Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, is brought to him. There is no fear of death on the man’s face – he is in the presence of his Maker – he has nothing to fear.
So, my children the journey of life presented in my three considerations for Lent is complete. Our Lady of Fatima told the same story in a much more meaningful way.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!