Last Saturday I went to the Missionaries of Charity (MC) house in Baltimore (they're the Mother Teresa nuns*) to meet my friend Jeremy before heading to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen (CMOQ). Jeremy suggested I come to the MC morning mass and help make breakfast, so I got up at 4:30 to make it in time for the 6:30 mass. The building is in a not-so-good part of town but I figured any murderers would be sleeping in on Saturday like everybody else.
Probably because of their vow of poverty, the chapel is decorated more like a dorm room than a typical chapel, with sparkly curtains and clip-outs. There were a few old pews and some chairs for guests and the Sisters kneel on the floor. I was last in the Communion line and got to make an awkward scene when the priest ran out of communion wafers and we all waited while he got another from the tabernacle. This was the first time I took communion directly on my tongue. Usually I take it in my hand. I opened my mouth like I do at the doctor's office, hoping I didn't have bad breath or any spittle in there, and waited while one of the Sisters held some mirrored plate thingy under my chin. This is a safeguard to catch Jesus in case the priest and I somehow manage to flip the consecrated host out of my mouth, which is not outside of the realm of possibility with me. But fortunately it landed on my tongue and stayed there.
It turns out that two girls regularly volunteer to make breakfast on Saturdays so I was out of a job. Instead I chatted with some of the guys who live there. The sisters board and care for sick, poor people with nowhere else to go. One of the guys was telling me about the bedridden African American resident named Barry White and he got a kick out of the fact that, "I have a friend who's a white girl and her name is Carrie Black!" Later I got put to work sweeping and mopping floors. Before we left, the head Sister gave me some awesome Mother Teresa prayer cards.
After driving in circles and spending 20 minutes for what should have been a 5 minute trip to buy the nuns some ginger, we spent a couple of hours at a sandwich shop talking about catholicky things and probably drawing all kinds of attention. I especially wondered what that guy must be thinking who interrupted our conversation to get some napkins. Knowing my conversations with Jeremy it was probably about the Holy Spirit and/or demons.
Eventually we made it to CMOQ which is an amazingly beautiful cathedral with statues of various saints. We knelt in front of St. John Vianney and prayed for about an hour, asking him to pray for various intentions for the church and priests. We asked so much of poor John Vianney that we decided we should perform a penance and both thought that giving up coffee might be good. This is something that I needed to give up anyway. I'll be giving about a zillion presentations within the next two months and misguided people are always trying to help by finding me a laser pointer, which makes it impossible to hide the nervous trembling. I don't need to go supplementing that with coffee jitters! Jeremy suggested no-coffee Tuesdays and Fridays, the days that people traditionally meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, but I figured I should be able to live without coffee. We'll see how that works next time I have to sit through an hour-long seminar talk.
On the way in to CMOQ, I had rashly proclaimed that there must be a pelican icon somewhere in this church and felt very smug when Jeremy found it. This is a popular image in Christian art based on a legend that the mother pelican will pierce her chest with her beak to feed her babies blood during times of famine. Halfway through our time there, someone came in for organ practice so our prayers were drowned out by ridiculously loud, repetitious organ music to the point that Jeremy said "how can he practice for so long?" and we decided it was our cue to leave.
After CMOQ, I called FrC. Amazingly he had a couple of hours available which is unheard of so, since he's one of my favorite people in the world, I stopped by to visit. We decided this was a good time to enroll me in the Brown Scapular Confraternity, but first I waited in the church while FrC ran off to get a jacket because he was convinced I was too cold. He came out with a huge black leather jacket that fit me pretty much how one of my jackets would fit a baby. My hands were completely lost in the sleeves. I hope the Virgin Mary liked my new look! Then FrC made what could have been a five minute formality into a half hour beautiful and prayerful ceremony which almost made me cry several times. When we were done he hugged me and said he's so proud of me so, of course, as soon as I left I totally cried in the privacy of my own car. Sigh, so much for my stoic exterior!
*Note: Consecrated women who are not fully-cloistered monastics are referred to as Religious Sisters rather than nuns, but most people are more familiar with the term nun.