I went last night to a Taize prayer service held here at Mercy Center. Leading us in prayer was the venerable Sister Suzanne Toolan, RSM (Religious Sister of Mercy) perhaps known best for the composition of the hymn "I am the Bread of Life." Sister is one of the gentlest, most prayerful souls I have ever encountered. She's also fairly blunt: after impressing me an Jake Martin into service to move a cross, she informed us that "we were not brats" like two other Jesuit scholastics who had been enrolled in the program a few years ago. Knowing that Sister does not consider me "a brat" counts, in my book, as high praise!
Our prayer began last night in the darkness of the chapel. A lone overhead light illuminated the crucifix while several small candles cast their light from the altar. There were quite a few people present: young and old, many of us interns, many of our directees.
The first song we sang may be familiar to you: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." These are the words of the Good Theif who, in a moment of clarity and repentance, acknowledges his own wrongdoing while also acknowledging Jesus to be the Savior. This thief resigns himself to his fate - death - and yet asks Jesus that he at least be remembered.
The chant involves but one line: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." As we sang them last night, the words seemed to hang in the hair, dissolving slowly into the half-light surrounding the altar. Again and again, we chanted these words and, as we did so, I felt myself moved more and more to both sorrow and great joy.
Let me tip my narrative hand: I was always among the last picked for sports teams in gym class. When the teacher chose two captains who happened also to be good athletes, it was easy to resign myself to the fate of being among the last three chosen. I mean it does make sense: the object is, of course, to win and, in order to win, one must assemble a good team. I did not have any particular athletic aptitude or interest, so it was no surprise that I was among the last picked.
But when it was a friend that was chosen to be the captain, that it was most awful. You had the sense that, in a perfect world, you'd be among the first chosen. But being chosen last, when it's done by your friend, is especially tough: friendship gets subordinated to the logic of victory.
I think the worst part of it was overhearing the already-chosen people make (un)helpful suggestions to the captain: "Pick him, at least he can hit." "Pick her, we can put her in the outfield" "No, no! Pick him because he's not that bad." You get the gist.
And then, if you weren't the absolute LAST person picked, you felt like you had to prove yourself even more - to justify your not having been picked dead last, demonstrating that you weren't wholly the detritus of the gym class. On a graced day, you'd make a great play; but, if you happened to be on the losing team, the recriminations were dire. Changing back into your uniforms, words like "dork" "wimp" "loser" "fag" "idiot" would be whispered of the losing team's scapegoat...whoever it happened to be.
"Remember me." Lord, although I don't think I'm good enough to play on your team, I recognize now that you are the captain on whose team I would most like to play. "Remember me." Lord, you are the conductor in whose symphony I now wish I was good enough to belong, but I know that I play imperfectly. "Remember me." Lord, I know that I am not worthy to join you at dinner, but please do not forget me.
"Remember me." I'll be out here, waiting, if you should need me.
"Remember me." If something happens, I'd be glad to fill in. I know you probably don't need me, but I'll be here anyway.
"Remember me." Please, just remember me.
And those words hang in the air. They dissolve into the anxious silence that separates us from one another.
Breaking the silence, the words that we could not have hoped to hear fill the abyss:
"Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Amen, Truly, I want you to be on my team. Amen, I want you to be in my band. Amen, I want you to eat with me.
Amen, I want you. Amen, I welcome you. Amen, it is you - all of you, your entire imperfect yet blessed self - that I want as a friend.
Amen. Amen. Amen.
I think this is the great logic of the Gospel: that it does not comport itself to the logic of humankind. To be sure, we do need logical structures and rules that dictate the way the game is played, the ways the law operates. But within the Christian life, this makes sense only in light of the original invitation of Christ to join him. It is not the case that Jesus has forgotten us: we are invited at every moment of every day, most especially through the Eucharist, to be with him.
Last prayer triggered in me feelings I thought I'd forgotten, feelings I thought I'd conquered. But as they crept back, I didn't recoil from them. Rather, I accepted them as an important part of my own story. I do know something of rejection and ridicule, of falling prey to thinking that the order in which I was picked dictated my relative worth as a person.
Nevertheless, the disparity between the selection of Gym Class and the Kingdom could not be more stark. In the gym class, desire matters so little. Are you good enough? Strong enough? Fast enough? Good. I choose you.
In the Kingdom, it is the opposite! Are you weak enough to know that I am the true source of strength? Are you frail enough to allow me to carry you? Are you broken enough to know that I am the healer of all? Are you humble enough to allow yourself to be chosen, rather than having to be the one who chooses? Are you possessed of the desire to feast with me and my friends - all of whom, by the way, were also the last-picked on the world's teams?
This is the team you desire to be on?
That's great. I also desire that you be on this team.
I choose you.
Remember this, that I have chosen you. Long before you took the notion to cry out to me, I had chosen you. I've just been waiting for you to get around to asking to play.
Welcome. So, what are you waiting for? We've got a game to play...and you're starting.