Happy Friday of the Easter Octave to you all.
I have been mulling this post over in my mind since last Friday (Good Friday), trying to figure out the best way, first of all to explain what happened and, secondly, to offer a reflection on it. Well, here goes.
At noon on Good Friday, a very small group of about ten of us gathered in our hall at St. James (our current place for liturgy) to pray the Stations of the Cross. Because there are no fixed stations in the hall, we erected some very contemporary stations around the walls of the room. One person carried the processional cross. We all had our programs with the responses and we all walked around from station to station. We got to the tenth station: "Jesus Us Stripped of His Garments." Here is a photo I took of that very station.
This station was affixed to the wall right next to a window. Here is a photo I took (after we completed the stations) of that window and the view I had standing there:
This is a view into our parking lot. Our windows have protective metal screening on them, to help prevent damage (our parish property does not sit in the safest of Chicago neighborhoods). If you look carefully, you can see the elevated train tracks on which run the Chicago Transit Authority's Green Line.
At any rate, and you will probably find this hard to believe, but, believe me, it actually happened. While I was standing at this spot, praying the tenth station, my mind wandered a little bit and I happened to glance out the window into the parking lot. What I saw stunned me and I need to apologize in advance for the graphic nature of this. There in the lot was a red SUV, positioned with its front end toward the street and its back end toward me. When I looked again, I couldn't believe my eyes. The driver's side door was open and there was a man standing there, kind of keeping guard. There was a woman squatting down right next to him. She was completely naked from the waste down and she was urinating on the asphalt of our parking lot. You know, it's one of those things that happens that you can't quite believe is happening; right in the open, in the daylight, in a church parking lot. I quickly looked around in the hall. I didn't want anyone else to see what was happening out there.
I am one of those people who believes that there is some meaning that needs to be interpreted for just about everything that happens around me. I guess that has a lot to do with having been a liturgist and a fully-engaged Catholic for most of my life.
I found it stunning that, as we were contemplating the embarrassment and humiliation that the Lord Jesus must have felt when he was stripped naked before the crowds, this woman was also half naked in our parking lot. I know this is not an easy thing to talk about, but I wondered what life circumstances precipitated the event unfolding in our church parking lot. Did these people even have a home with a bathroom? Were they in the neighborhood because drugs are readily available? How did this woman feel exposing herself in broad daylight? Did she feel humiliated? I can only imagine that she must have been extremely embarrassed. Was the man she was with her husband, who was trying to shield her from the looks of passersby? Why would anyone come to such an open place, right next to the commuter rail line to urinate out in the open?
There may be the simplest of answers for all of this, too. Our parish is very near an exit on the expressway and there are not a lot of businesses with public bathrooms nearby; and this could have been a simple bladder emergency.
I guess the reason really doesn't matter at this point. What did matter for me was how this incident framed the rest of Good Friday for me. Too often, at least for me, when we recall the events that led to Golgotha, we might be tempted to see these more in a "that's the way it was . . . Jerusalem in the year 33 A.D." kind of way. We can let these events stand at a historical distance, keeping ourselves shielded from the reality that the suffering, humiliation, death, and resurrection of Christ still happens every single moment of every single day.
That half-naked woman in our church parking lot was, at least for me at that moment, a contemporary image of the tenth station: "Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments." As happens so often when the stations are prayed, I was humiliated for my Lord, and I was also humiliated for this woman, who happened to be the Lord at that moment.
This all got me thinking about the moment when I would embrace the cross at the Good Friday liturgy during the parish's veneration of the cross. What would the cross mean for me on that day? This is what happened to me as I embraced the "there" of that moment. There, in the midst of the reality of the paschal mystery was my colleague Mike and his two children, who had just lost wife and mom to cancer. There—was my sister who is living with cancer now. There—were countless numbers of people who have been sexually abused by members of the clergy. There—were clergy those who perpetrated that abuse and there—were bishops who covered it all up. There—were the people just across the street from Saint James who are abusing drugs and selling illegal drugs. There—were the families of too many young people in Chicago neighborhoods who have been victims of gang violence. There—was the woman who had urinated in our parking lot that morning. There—were people who have survived years of addiction and are now clean and sober. There—was the joy that comes only from knowing God.
At communion at Saint James on Good Friday, we sang the hymn Were You There? Suddenly that hymn was not so much about recalling past events in the life of the historical Jesus. It became for me a reflection on the ways that Jesus lives, suffers, is humiliated, dies, and rises today. It became for me a deep reflection on the meaning of the word "there" in that hymn. This whole experience left me with the question, which I'd like to ask you as well: Were you there?
There, when they crucified my Lord?
There, when they nailed him to the tree?
There, when they pierced him in the side?
There, when the sun refused to shine?
There, when they laid him in the tomb?
There, when he rose out of the tomb?
Gotta sing. gotta pray.