After the first of the year, I decided to diminish my participation in music ministry at our parish. The main reason was Cliff. In an effort to spend as much time as I could working on his speech challenges, it meant that I really couldn’t spare the hours of weekly practices and commitments. The byproduct has been that without all the weekly commitments, we’ve branched out and enjoyed a few occasional trips to some of the beautiful historic churches in Detroit.
Today, we visited St. Josaphat’s. It was hot, and attendance was rather sparse. The homily was solid, and the music was good. The organist has a fantastic singing voice. The acoustics in church (oddly) aren’t that great, though. And he sings without a mic. Which I don’t quite get. He even announces the songs by sort of hollering them from the choir loft. And it’s hard to pick up what he’s saying. In part because he also tends to give somewhat extensive instructions (“We’ll sing all four stanzas of the song and only sing the refrain at the beginning and end”). That said, they’re always pretty familiar traditional choices and a joy to sing. One Sunday during Lent, he sang after communion John Stainer’s “God So Love the World,” and well, I thought someone was going to have to peel me off the floor. It was gorgeous, holy, meditational and spectacularly resonant, even with his back to the congregation as he played (beautifully, I might add) the organ.
We’ve gone to noon mass there a few times since March. The pastor is young and energetic and is responsible for that church as well as two neighboring churches. And when I say neighboring … I mean neighboring. One (Sweetest Heart of Mary) is barely more than a stone’s throw away.
When visiting St. Josaphat on Palm Sunday, I had to remove Cliff from the sanctuary and hang out in the vestibule. It had something to do with his pointing out all the many paintings and depictions of Jesus in the church and wanting to discuss them. In full voice. And since he is a boy with whom we do not want to discourage talking, it was just better to take his need for conversation elsewhere.
That’s when we saw it: A tomb with a life-size statue of Christ. Complete with crucifixion wounds. Cliff – at the time – would often say, “Jesus died on the boss.” (To which I would inaudibly come back with “and the E Street Band” before modeling the correct pronunciation of the word “cross.”) When he saw Jesus in the tomb, he declared, “Jesus died in a box!”
I did my best to try – in three-year-old terms – to explain what it was that he was seeing. That it was a statue, wasn’t scary and was for a display to help people understand the story of Jesus dying and rising.
He couldn’t stay away from it. I quickly snapped the above photo with my iPhone. I was moved by my son’s compassion for a statue that I believe many three-year-olds would find a rather unsettling. When mass was over, he made sure Richard and the other children saw it.
On Good Friday, we visited Sweetest Heart of Mary. It had a similar statue and a tomb as part of a rather elaborate display. We examined it with Clifford hoping it was a least a step in helping him put the whole Jesus-in-a-box experience in context. We ended up going back there during Easter so Cliff could see the empty tomb.
I was surprised today at St. Josaphat when I saw that the tomb was again tucked under the stairs to the choir loft (or bell tower – I’m not sure where they lead exactly). I assumed it would be put away somewhere. However, instead of being exposed, the statue was covered with a white sheath of some sort, which to Cliff was very unappealing. He wanted to see Jesus again. I was grateful the statue was covered; it was easier to pry him away and take him into the church.
True to form, during mass (sometime after the Offertory and before he got a shiner from knocking his head on a pew) Cliff’s loud monologue about Jesus dying on the cross (which he pronounces perfectly, now) began. He started to point out all the paintings and statues of Christ in the church. Finally, he motioned to the back of the church and announced in full voice that, “Jesus died in a bag. In the box. But he’s alive.”
We’re getting there. I think.