A call to arms, all-embracing

The back wall of our motherhouse chapel consists of a mosaic called "The All-Embracing Love of the Resurrected Christ." (Photo courtesy of Mary Rose Noonan, CSJ)

The back wall of our motherhouse chapel consists of a 32-by-40-foot mosaic called "The All-Embracing Love of the Resurrected Christ." His arms stretch the width of the wall. They are not self-satisfying arms, abusive, rapacious. Rather they are tender, benevolent, opened wide in gracious welcome. His wingspan is the envy of every basketball player. Every lover.

Of course, the lovers. Romeo and Juliet know these embracing arms well, this love. At the ballet, he holds her in impossible poses, then gently lifts her, drapes her, face up, over his left shoulder, near his heart, and slow dances across the stage. Their arms stretch wide in parallel lines as the orchestra plays Prokofiev. All is light and airy, ethereal. Let their families take up arms and tear one another apart, if they will. These two dance the ecstasy of first love. Remember this, they say, as the curtain falls.

At the motherhouse, a 100-year-old sister does remember love. Well after midnight, she climbs to the second floor, slow walks the corridor, and brushes first one door curtain aside, then another to see that all is well. Most sleepers lie curled in the fetal position. If they are not, she enters, pulls up a chair, stretches her arm across the bed until hand in hand both sisters fall asleep.

Catch as catch can on a summer breeze. Old women dream in minor keys.

He wakes from a dream early and thinks what will it be today? Bread and fish on a hillside? A little dead girl restored to the arms of her parents? Maybe a walk on water. A hand stretched out to one sinking. A flock of children like birds and his arms around the whole lot of them. (Oh, Christ, grant us such arms around our children!)

What will it be today? The sly eye, the grumbling disbelief, the wayward heart?

He wakes early and says what he says every day. Father, into your arms I commend my spirit.

Not for a minute does the resurrected Christ stay put on the chapel wall. One fine day, he comes to a family reunion. This is not the marriage feast at Cana, but close.

This family does not shake hands or air-kiss. They wrap arms around each other, big, warm, some lifting you quite off your feet in a kind of backyard ballet. One cousin walks with a cane in one hand, the other circling first one waist, then another. A 96-year-old aunt sits next to her walker and stretches both arms to every niece, nephew and cousin to the nth degree. These people bend forward and backward, stand tiptoe for such embraces.

They are the children of immigrants, with ancestry charts provided to mark their journeys from the old country. Their foremothers and fathers came crammed in steerage, with dates and the careless spelling of names at the port of entry.

One of their countrymen crossed the ocean, hoisted himself up on a scaffold, à la Michelangelo, and piece by colored stone piece created the mosaic in our motherhouse chapel. The patch over Christ's left shoulder, near his heart, is deep crimson. Every person who has come and gone and will come is a piece of the all-embracing love of the resurrected Christ.

Remember this love: first, fast, last.

[Joan Sauro, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, publishes widely in the Catholic press. "We were called Sister" (U.S. Catholic) was awarded first place for Best Essay 2014 by the Catholic Press Association.]