Yesterday, at church, I was reminded that this is Holy Week--Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, then, next Sunday, Easter. I hadn't been thinking of it.
But then, I grew up in the Reformation's 400-year afterglow, distrusting just about anything remotely "Roman Catholic" and eschewing, like my people, ritual excess of all kinds. The folks I grew up among preferred bare minimums in church, no soloists, no praise bands, no banners, maybe a few panes of stained glass but certainly no stations of the cross. We weren't Puritans, per se, but our churches and our liturgies were scrubbed clean and purged of formalities.
I never heard of Maundy Thursday until I was thirty, at least. When I was a boy, we would have thought such exacting ritual to be as excessive as fish on Fridays. Maundy Thursday--I still had to look it up to spell it correctly--wasn't part of our way of our ritual, part of our worship tradition. I think we would have thought it strange--or foreign--to have someone wash our feet, in part because bare feet in church, we might well have considered gauche. I grew up in a mightily religious family, but no one ever called these seven days "Holy Week."
But that doesn't mean we didn't know such things. On Good Friday, at noon, the church bells rang and there was no school. That I remember. For three hours Daane Hardware locked its doors, just as did Stuart Mentink at IGA, John Daane at Red Owl, and one of the Wykhuises at their grocery. The Wooden Shoe restaurant across the street doused its grill, I'm sure, and although I don't remember exactly, I'm betting Flipse's didn't tap a beer either. In town, everything stopped for three hours.
That memory has some profundity; it lies in solemn state in my soul, really.
In the Philipines, I've read, pious believers make a practice of visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday, a practice calle Visita Iglesia. It's likely been done hither and yon already these days, but if it hasn't it might be a sweet idea in towns like the ones down the road, where there are plenty more than seven churches not all that far from each other.
Ritual--our religious practice--can be a nest of hooks because it sustains as well as mortifies. It's confusing to some and patently ridiculous to others. These days new "with-it" churches are built on the ashes of burned-out walls created by what are, to some, confining, lifeless rituals.
In the Netherlands, a country that would describe itself, I think, as deeply secular, everything closes down on Pinkster, Pentecost. It's true. Here in deeply religious Sioux County, a colony of the descendants of Holland's own most orthodox Protestants, Pentecost gets a mention on Sunday, I'm sure, but little else.
I'm not sure what practices Mother Teresa ritualized, come Holy Week, but anyone who believed in the traditional mission of the church as deeply as she did, I'm sure lived by whatever rituals were mandated or even suggested. She lived in liege to the church really, and I expect that if we would have a log book of her Maundy Thursday practice, all kinds of penitence would be there in boldface.
But then, few Christians I know have been as devoted to sacrifice as she was.
When Jesus suffered on the cross, she argued, "even his own father didn't claim Him as his son." God himself rejected Jesus "because God cannot accept sin and Jesus had taken on sin."
"Do you realize," she told her sisters in the order, "that when you accept the vows you accept the same fate as Jesus?"
It's a hybrid theology she uses here, a theology that emerges from her reading of Christ's passion, as well as the experience of her own profound loss of faith. She wants to be him, to bear his suffering, not for him--she knows that's not possible--but simply to be like him, to be Jesus.
And to do that, she needs to suffer, even the rejection of the Father. I'm beginning to understand her, and I respect her greatly. But I don't believe her.
There are mysteries this week, mysteries we cannot know. And I'm thankful, this Monday morning of this Holy Week, for what she did, what she stood for, and what she became--thankful for what she thought and said and did.
I don't share her perceptions or her theology, but it's been good, in this early morning darkness, to try to understand her, which is also, of course, to try to understand those mysteries, those profound mysteries of this and every Holy Week of the year.