Sunday, March 8, 2009

Novena of Grace - Day One

I happened to see the announcement in the newspaper yesterday: St. Aloysius Church - Gonzaga University's cathedral - was having its 82nd Novena of Grace starting that exact day. It was time to go again.

Since I'm not Catholic, I don't quite understand what a Novena of Grace is. I know the basics: it is a nine-day ritual of coming to church each day and receiving a blessing with - in this church's case - a relic from St. Xavier. Then on the second-to-last day, there is a group hands-on blessing with holy oil. The nine-day event is intended for healing. Many come for physical healing. Others come for spiritual healing. But healing does seem to be the goal. Apparently Spokane's Novena is considered the largest in the world.

Last time I went - only time I went - was 2005. I was just out of minor surgery, and was very anemic from the ordeal. The doc had told me to expect to be anemic through the end of the year. When I went to see him a month later (must have been about April), he came in with the blood test results looking shocked. I was nearly back to normal, he said. This is - quite unusual, he said, almost mumbling to himself. "Oh - I know what happened," I said. "I went to the Novena of Grace over at Gonzaga about a month ago. We did a blessing with holy oil at the end. I asked for my anemia to be healed. It must be from that." He did not look reassured.

I'm surprised they let me in the church. I have, after all, represented victims of sexual abuse against the Spokane Diocese. I did, after all, sue Spokane's bishop for defamation of a housekeeper. (long story, not told here) Oh, and I did a countervigil to the bishop's prayer vigil for the victims one very-cold March day in 2004. I was on the cement steps of the cathedral downtown all morning long, with a small lit candle, waiting for other countervigilants to arrive at noon. About an hour into my morning, someone from the church came and told me to blow out the candle. That it was a fire hazard. On cement steps. With nothing flammable nearby. Man. Later, I did a letter to the editor that said victims don't want the bishop praying for them - last time he prayed for them, he decided to file a motion to dismiss all their lawsuits on statute of limitations grounds. (This is true - he said he had the lawyers file the motion after praying about it. I'm wondering who gave him the thumbs-up on it during the prayer process - likely not God, since the motion was not a good one, only caused temporary delay, caused incredible emotional pain to sexual abuse victims, and ultimately was unsuccessful). I said in the letter that they preferred that he pray to regain his memory instead (since he had testified in deposition that he could not remember any of the myriad of reports he received about one abusive priest in particular).

After all that, one would think that someone would spot me at the Novena and politely come up and suggest that I leave the building. Go syphon off the energy of someone else's church, one imagines that someone at the church might say to me. Especially since I'm not Catholic. Though my grandfather was. He entered the church devoutly. He left the church as an altar boy, refusing to go back. Guess what we think happened to him when he was an altar boy.

And one also may wonder why I even go in the first place. Especially this time, as it turns out that one of the priests conducting the Novena this time is high up in the Jesuit administration, is named in the new lawsuit against an abusive priest left to roam the recesses of Alaska, and fits the profile of being part of the hierarchy that maintained silence. Church first, children somewhere after that. The other priest is this guy's brother. Actual brother. Who also served in Alaska. The chances of one - much less both - of these men having clean hands when it comes to protecting kids during critical times these past couple of decades is pretty small....

I go because I love the Novena. I go because I love the Christian mystics. I go, this time, perhaps to come to some place of peace about imperfect men in a perfectly ordered spiritual world (even though we do not ourselves see or understand how each step holds that perfection). Perhaps I go, this time, to learn even more about having discernment while letting go of judgment. These men believe in hell. So if they hold responsibility - well, that that is where they will go when they die, for it is the structure that they believe. Perhaps they are in hell now. One can only hope, for the sake of their souls. For if they are not in hell-on-earth, and yet they were responsible parties, well then, they are without conscience. And that will just turn ugly in the long run.... for them, actually. In death, if not sooner. Or so I imagine it to be true. It's like the real definition of karma - it is not punishment for bad deeds. It is, instead, the universe's way of balancing out imbalanced energy. If you have acted outside of your integrity, then there is an imbalance. And the universe seeks to create balance. Hence, karma. You're best off if karma is instant. Otherwise, it will just build up over time, decades, lives.....

A part of me wonders if maybe I shouldn't come to the Novena at all, now that I know that part of the hierarchy is leading it. But I know that is false. I actually have a small physical ailment, so it is perfect for me to go to the Novena this year. Besides - it is almost a calling that I go.

Perhaps it is to heal the building. My exorcist play is about that. And my own presence has been about that at times, without me even knowing it. At my office, for instance. It is in the old Catholic girls school. Apparently a priest abused one of the girls in the building, I found out recently. Maybe even in my old office on the second floor (I'm on the first floor now). What are the odds of that happening? Decades after priest sexual abuse, a lawyer happens to lease an office in the building where abuse occurred - maybe even the very room where abuse occurred - and ultimately represents victims of sexual abuse against the Church. Karma, in a good way. Poor building. Poor room. At least some justice prevailed there. Even if it came decades later.

And I go to the Novena because there is something greater about it than these two priests. They asked at yesterday's service how many people had been to this Novena between 60 and 70 times. There were people who raised their hands. Amazing. So this Novena - it is not about the relationship between the priests and me. It is instead about the relationship between God and me. Between the mystics and me. Between St. Xavier and me, and his relics.

I guess. I don't know. I do know that I seek the healing offered in the physical. And I do believe that healing can take place on a multitude of levels. We will see how the week pans out. It is, after all, the Novena of Grace.


green libertarian said...

I am truly amazed at your journey. Your writing is fantastic, and I love the artwork of the day. Very well done.

Peace be with you.

And also with you.

David said...

I am reading your Novena of Grace articles. I will do one each day for the next nine days.Have my own little Novena here.