Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What good is a road....?

IN OLD RUSSIA IT WOULD BE SAID: "What good is a road if it doesn't lead to a church?" In our country we might say, "What good is a road if it doesn't lead to a mall?" or "What good is a road if it doesn't lead to a stadium?" or "What good is a road if it doesn't lead to a place to eat?" Before 1917 in Russia a wooden church could be found along the Onega River every six to eight miles.  It's said that bells could be heard up and down  the roads that ran along the river's edge. A different world.

And here at the end of imaginary roads,  a wonderful wooden chapel, called Holy Trinity, has been built in the old Russian style - in Antarctica - at the bottom of our planet. Daydream: that as we walk along an ice road, we come across this miniature wonder of spiritual genius.

"Always look up!" my friend Natalya's Mother would tell her when she was a girl in St. Petersburg. "Always look up," through the disappointments, the malaise and discouragement, the stresses we encounter in relationships and the work we have to do. "Look up," the wooden chapel invites.

Discovering the chapel in the desolate Antarctic might surprise us - as God offers surprises us along the life-way. "Want to make God laugh?" Mother Teresa would ask, "Tell him your plans." As an 18 year old, I joined a Franciscan community  in 1969 because I wanted to be a food-raising-farmer for the large institution the brothers ran in caring for pre-delinquent boys. When the superior met me at the airport he said, "Well you start school on Monday." "I hate school" I thought and said, "Brother I joined the order to work the farm." He said, "Oh we're phasing all of that out. We want all of our brothers to be teachers."  A high speed, ninety degree life-turn in five seconds. I looked up to see if the plane had left.

The Antarctic chapel instills joy, which even many Christians have forfeited over the years. In Muriel Spark's novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,  high-spirited Jean Brodie confides to Teddy Loyd, the Art Master, that among the teaching staff of the proper 1930's Scottish girl's school, Marcia Blaine, "There are colleagues here who would delay the Second Coming if they detected the sound of a harp or two." 

I stumbled on this splendid chapel in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1967, when I took a Franciscan pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., and even got to serve the priest's Mass at the High Altar. When we were given time to explore I found this alive and light-hearted place dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The undulating walls with the bright mosaic procession of candle-bearing Mexican believers, calls us, like the Lord to John's investigating disciples, "Come and see." (John 1:39). Good mothers surround the disclosure of secrets with fun!

Anyway, for all the creative delight and surprise, intimacy and joy that churches and chapels can evoke - ultimately it's an interior communion with God that they signify. It's important to hold the memory of having seen these marvelous places, if even in pictures, as somehow in pondering them, they awaken what's very lovely and of God within.

Church of Mary's Nativity ~ Novgorod ~ 1719

Psalm 27 is called A Song of Assurance. I'd say, A Song of Assurance in Difficult Times. I imagine the psalm-singer as a pilgrim on the road with Jerusalem's great temple in sight.

V3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
even then will I be confident.
V4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
this I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to contemplate his temple.


  1. Beautiful... reminds that even Monsignor Ryan Hall with its once basketball backboard over the Alter, gives the joy and tranquility of God's house

    1. A road to the Msgr Ryan Hall - yes - the altar is there and the friends of Jesus gathered around.

  2. We all follow a road. Maybe not the road we intended, but we end uo someplace. If only all our roads lead us to God. You must have found a new road if you got over your hatred of school to attend the seminary to become a priest.

    1. Yes, because I stayed in the Franciscan Order for a year and then returned home on Long Island. And what did I do? I went back to school at Nassau Community and then transferred to St. John's and became - of all things - a TEACHER. And then to the seminary. "What God wants," my friend Mother Placid would say.

    2. Sometimes the best teachers are the ones who did the worst in school. They have an understanding of the struggles of their students. And then the road to priesthood. We follow many detours in our lives before we find the correct road. You are helping people discover their paths through reflection and prayer. Amen I say to that.

  3. And now the road has led you to reach all of us through your blog. I am so grateful for that. It is so beautifully done and your words are a gift. I look forward to each day that a new post comes.

    1. The "road" indeed! Remember when 'online' first became available to us and it was being called a "super highway!' "What good is a super highway if it doesn't lead to a church?"

  4. Your calling and your words are beautiful gifts to all of us. I am a parishioner from one of your former parishes and your words and the reverence you exude are sorely missed here. So thankful I found your blog.

    1. I love to hear that folks from my other parishes have found the blog. It's wonderful - our being able to stay in touch this way.