Sometimes when we read the Gospels we find ourselves in the story, relating to one or other of the people there. Reading the story of Martha and Mary for example, we may relate to Mary, the quiet one, or Martha, the one busy about many things.
Other times the Gospels lift right off the page and repeat themselves on our streets and neighborhoods, in our homes, even in the doctor's office.
Martha and Mary at the doctor's office
My father was an immigrant who left a hard-scrabble life in Italy for upstate New York. Here he was homeless for a time. His motto was, "Expect the worst. That way you may be pleasantly surprised."
Every time I go to the doctor's office, whether for a regular checkup or for mysterious pains, I always expect the worst. I sit in a paper gown up on the examining table while an assistant takes my vitals and then leaves me with my feet dangling. Sometimes it's a long wait. This is when Martha and Mary appear.
It happens every time up on the table. One foot starts swinging wildly, the other hangs down motionless. One foot is Martha itching to go, the other foot is Mary wanting to stay put. It is hard to believe that two feet belonging to one person could be so contrary, but they are, leading me to think that there is a little Mary and a little Martha in all of us. That's as it should be, action and contemplation together, the swinging foot and the still one.
Christ praises Mary for staying put. Later He praises Martha for running to meet him and identifying him as the Messiah.
I meet these two sisters in the Gospels. More often I meet them in the doctor's office.
Good Samaritan hill
Our car has fits of stop and go, so we bring it to the shop. The mechanic tests everything and says it's fine to go. Two weeks later the car stops permanently halfway up a steep hill.
It is a precarious place for a car to die, with single lanes in both directions. In order to pass us, cars behind have to dart into oncoming traffic and dart back in. Meanwhile, we call for a tow and wait for what turns out to be 45 minutes. Cars come within feet of us. Seven of them stop. Good Samaritans come in all ages, genders, colors, beliefs. An MIA flag flies from one car, booming music blasts from another, two senior heads appear in the same open window. All ask can they help.
One car passes ours then slowly backs up to where we sit blocking traffic. I get out of the passenger side and walk up to two African American women who roll down their window. I tell them to be careful, their tires are scraping the curb. They say, "God bless you," and, "Can they help their sisters," exactly what they say, their sisters. Amazed, I say, "Thank you for stopping, a tow is coming." Again, God bless you.
I wish I knew where they worship so I could join them because the news from South Carolina that night reports that nine people of color were murdered by a white man they welcomed into their church like the Good Samaritans they are. To two who stopped on a treacherous hill, please lay this tribute for a wreath at your welcome door. I remember you every time I drive on Good Samaritan Hill.
It is Christ I remember at Crucifixion Corner.
There is a life-size replica of the crucified hanging on the wall above the altar in our church. The head is bowed, peaceful looking from the pews. However, if you stand at the altar and look up, you see a tortured face frozen in pain. One afternoon when the church is empty, I go over, stand at the altar, look up and take a picture of the crucified.
Years later, I attend the funeral of an elderly parishioner, a seamstress who made all the vestments the celebrant wears. At the end of the liturgy, her daughter speaks lovingly of her mother, then points to the crucifix on the wall and says, "My parents donated this crucifix."
In the pew I think about my photograph and resolve to find a copy of it after Mass. I know that the family is headed for the nearby Twin Trees restaurant after the burial, so I have a little time. It takes longer than anticipated. Finally, success. Not wanting to miss the daughter, I hurry. With photo in hand, I run down three blocks, over a stretch of grass, onto the sidewalk and fall. My jaw and right hand hit the concrete. Bits of broken teeth and blood spatter the picture of Christ crucified in my bloody hand.
Sprawled between two trees, I know what it might mean to lie broken with him.
These days it is painful to pass Crucifixion Corner. It has become one of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.
Cana at the gazebo - A joyful mystery
Combined families and friends gather at a gazebo on a balmy, late afternoon in July. Live wreaths wrap the gazebo; pots of flowers festoon the grounds. Every gentleman sports a boutonniere, every woman, a corsage. White sailboats skim a blue Onondaga Lake in the background.
In high expectation we await the arrival of the bride who is in a car hidden behind trees. My brother smiles nervously like any new husband-to-be and checks that his son, the best man, has the rings. A string quartet begins the Canon in D, and all eyes fix on the path between trees where the maid of honor, the bride's daughter, slowly processes to the front of the gazebo.
The canon continues, the bride appears and stands for a moment, the sun shining through the flowers in her hair, touching the shoulders of her long peach dress. Then she slowly walks through patches of sunlight, utterly transformed by joy. My beaming brother accepts her hand and they walk up the gazebo steps where a judge is waiting to receive their marriage vows.
There is no priest this day, the bride's long-ago divorced first husband refusing an annulment and the whole procedure proving impossible. She is a daily communicant at the Catholic hospital where she works. My brother volunteers in the waiting room. Weekends they worship at their parish church.
This day we are having church at the gazebo. I read the Gospel of John, The Marriage Feast at Cana. We hear the last recorded words of our mother, Mary, spoken to the waiters and to us. "Do whatever he tells you." Sometimes that means filling the jars, sometimes it means emptying them. Sometimes the first marriage lasts forever. Sometimes it's the second one.
"Do whatever he tells you." When they are a person's last recorded words, the last sound of her voice, you sit up and take notice.
When they are a person's last words, you make them your first. You do what he tells you in the depths of your hearts. You pledge your lives to each other.
Every time I drive the parkway, I remember how Cana came to our family at the gazebo. Every day I hear Mary speaking in my own heart, as well. Do whatever he tells you.
Author's note: A different version of the crucifixion corner section appeared as a poem in U S. Catholic, August 2015.
[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 CPA.]