*O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.*
The halls were cool. Large pale ceramic tiles lined the walls, the floors polished by Mr. Jensen, every afternoon, so I thought. We knew to be quiet and respectful in these halls, except of course when it was nearly impossible at 3 o'clock and our capacity for stillness was wrung out and we needed to run and chatter and play and burst into the sunshine or the rain or snow. But we weren't released until the entire class could line up quietly and proceed in an orderly fashion.
Every morning began with the Morning Offering and the Pledge of Allegiance. A large crucifix over the speaker box, an American flag in its pole, Sr. Mary Norbert leading us.
Catholicism and patriotism twined. I entered St. Clare School in September, 1963, not yet six years old. My oldest brother was in the 8th grade, my sister in the 6th, the next brother in the 4th and there were two more at home who would be enrolled. My little piece of the world, Rosedale, New York, on the southeast edge of Queens, was a wonderful place for children. And boy, were there children. We were Baby Boomers: our fathers fought in World War II, victorious over the forces of darkness that threatened to destroy all goodness. We were born into a time of peace and prosperity. For all I knew in 1963, everyone was Catholic, everyone attended St. Clare's School and Church. And, we had a Catholic President.
Life was good. Life made sense.
We were on the cusp of Vatican II changes; the nuns wore starched white crown and bib, black veil, with voluminous organdy skirts and around their waists a large rosary with a crucifix—the crucified Savior swinging past us as Sister paced the aisles checking to see that we were doing our work. We made First Communion in First Grade with the Latin Mass. We we introduced into the mysterious, powerful words and if we were paying attention, we were seized with the power of the presence of Christ.
How could we not be? Our young souls were drenched in the mysteries, the discipline, the prayers and the oft repeated lives of the saints, our heroes and heroines, who gave everything, even their lives, to defend the truth of our faith.
And, importantly, there was St. Clare. She stood watch over us from the first floor hallway, across from the principal's office. She stood, head bowed in reverence at the monstrance housing the Blessed Sacrament. And at her feet was a sword and arrow, shattered. The message was clear to my child mind. It is, and always will be, the power of Christ that will conquer all adversaries, vanquish all evil.
(To those modern day liturgical iconoclasts who dismiss the teaching power of stained glass windows, statues and icons, here is my witness.)
On the feast of St. Clare (I get an email for the saint of the day) I reread a bit of her bio. She was an early feminist—-rejecting her parents plans for her to marry and running away to meet with St. Francis and found an order of nuns, the Poor Clares.
She lived a rugged life and suffered from poor health. In the year 1240, her home of Assisi was overrun by Saracens bent on destroying Christianity and slaying all Christians. Though she was confined to bed because of illness, her frightened charges pled with her to protect them from the army at their convent door. She arose, removed the monstrance from their chapel and held it up against their would be murderers. The Saracens fled, unable to withstand the holy presence of the Body of Christ, enshrined in the monstrance. Thus, the sword and arrow, shattered, at her feet.
But, that was more than 700 years before. Things like that didn't happen anymore. Christian persecution was a thing of the past. History. Thank God that was all behind us.
What did I know? I was six. I lived in a bubble, a happy child who loved school and church, loved the comfort of the holy colors and aromas and the beautiful, reassuring sacredness that I was privileged to be wrapped in.
Before Thanksgiving of First Grade, the world began to shatter. Caroline Kennedy and I were the same age, born in the same month. Our mothers even combed our thick blondish hair in the same fashion. Her father was killed and it changed the world. Could my father, every bit as much a hero, be killed?
An era was over. It was a short era, granted, and it was killed with gunshots in Dallas.
And then the Sixties really began to happen. Social unrest, riots, war, everything questioned and scoffed. Christianity laughed at as a pleasant delusion to keep the masses down. Nothing new there, just that now they had microphones and TV cameras and the subtleties of tossing everything up for grabs and not waiting to see what stuck. The idea of the Sacred and the everlasting was for fools. Only the now, man, that's the only thing that matters. Peace out and be groovy. Here, take a toke if you want to see mysteries.
Over the years I have learned that all those holy colors and aromas and rites were not a pleasant distraction, a magnificent pageant. No, they all were centered in Christ crucified and Christ Risen. And the cloud of witnesses, the saints and the holy ones, whose very core, stripped of all the world has to offer, is Jesus.
When the world crashes down around your ankles, and the Saracens are at the gate, what is it that will save us?
Ask St. Clare.