Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Babylon Captivation

The Archbishop for the Military Services came to town to do a pastoral visitation of the members of his flock who are deployed to this theater. (He's the shepherd for approximately 1.5 million Catholics around the world: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen and their famililes. His is the largest parish geographically, since it encompasses the whole world.)

He and I are almost the same age, and like me, he came to his job with no prior service. (Unlike me, when/if he leaves his job, he'll still have no military service!)

It's caused quite a stir, in some circles, to have him here.

Now that I've become the Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Community here Down Range I've gotten to know quite a number of Airmen, one of whom invited SFC McG (why does he get all these invitations *first*?) -- and then me -- to come to the flight line to greet the Archbishop as he arrived in Iraq.

The only other Officers present for this event outranked me embarrassingly.

The Archbishop went to one of the Jesuit high schools in my Province of the Society of Jesus, and went to school with one of my classmates in the Jesuits. My Provincial and he are friends, and so my mentioning to him as we shook hands there on the tarmac that I'm from that Province prompted a rather wry comment about the Jesuits from him. (SFC McG made sure to remind me of that comment afterward.)

I'd seen the schedule which had been drawn up for the Archbishop by those responsible for such things, and knew he would have very little time to just chill out and chitchat, so I reasoned that I might see him at most once more during his trip. (I have things to do, too, after all!)

So I decided to give him a small gift, in my capacity as Pastor of this place which has a population of upwards of 70,000 (only some of whom are Catholic, of course). I wanted to present him with something meaningful (to me, and I would hope, to him). There wasn't much time to make this happen: I got the invitation one night, and the welcome was to be the next night. In the interim, I had three Masses at different places to celebrate.

How to sum up being in Babylon, as a Catholic Chaplain in the United States Army, to an Archbishop with no prior military service?

Given the time crunch, I settled on something I'd planned on using as my own memento of this experience. I had found a very lovely set of Muslim prayer beads at one of the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) SFC McG and I visit regularly, and as they carry both cultural and spiritual meanings, I decided to give them to the Archbishop.

Those prayer beads consist of 99 counting beads (to recite the 99 divine attributes) and an elongated terminal bead (used to recite the name "Allah"). Because this set is made of tiger's-eye stones, each bead is unique in its pattern of golds and browns and blacks, and the honey-colored stones seem to shiver and pulse when light hits them. It seems as if one could actually reach inside the stones, given the chatoyancy [look it up!] and silky luster of each stone.

They are very reminiscent of a set of rosary beads.

Having decided to part with them -- a decision not reached lightly because they're and exquisitely beautiful piece of religious artwork -- I got SFC McG to take me over to the Bazaar so that I could find a small inlaid wooden box in which to place the beads, since I didn't have any wrapping paper.

Mission accomplished, he then spent the rest of the day driving me hither, thither, and yon so I could say Mass.

After a day of celebrating Palm Sunday multiple times (reading the account of the Passion from Mark's Gospel each time), I was hungry and tired, and looking forward to dinner. I'm glad we grabbed lunch at some point during the day, because we missed dinner due by a few minutes due to the Archbishop's plane arriving late. Oh well. I'd never met a dignitary at a flight line before, so it was a worthwhile experience. I also met a Chaplain for the first time whom I'm looking forward to getting to know better.

After I gave the box to the Archbishop, I explained to him that as Army Chaplains, we Catholic priests are not only charged with performing Catholic worship and sacrments for his flock, we're also responsible for providing for the free exercise of religion of all those who fall under our care.

I told him that I hoped that those prayer beads might serve as a reminder of his trip to Iraq, and of the ministry that we Catholic Army Chaplains wholeheartedly embrace concerning the military community as a whole.

I wonder if I'll ever find another set of beads like that one....

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ
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Anonymous said...

Amazing gift -- I wonder if the Archbishop has any clue how much they mean to you?


dan-fourrier said...

Chatonyancy---Tim, how did you EVER find that word:
Having a changeable luster.
A chatoyant stone or gemstone, such as the cat's-eye.

I'm suitably impressed!

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