AN EXCERPT FROM FREAK OF NURTURE IN HONOR OF HOLY WEEK, MY LEAST FAVORITE WEEK OF THE YEAR.
In order to embrace the suffering caused by life as a Missionary of Charity, our Mistress insisted, we should meditate on the sufferings of Jesus. Holy Week, the week in which Roman Catholics everywhere obsess about Jesus’ torture and death on the cross, provided a convenient opportunity to do this.
MC Holy Week is like a trip to Disneyworld, if Disneyworld had been designed by Marquise de Sade.
We spent our time in penance and listening to endless and gruesome recitations about the crucifixion. We did the Stations of the Cross sometimes morning and night, each time starting with “Jesus is condemned to die/God through sin I crucify.”
I agreed, yes, Jesus was being killed was very bad. But I didn’t see why we had to hear about it in such revolting and graphic detail. If you can imagine having a copy of the coroner’s report from an X-Files episode read to you while you were trying to eat dinner, you get the picture.
Oh the guilt mongering! During Holy Week we constantly chanted the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, which involves saying “for the sake of his sorrowful passion” no less than fifty times. We were supposed to be remembering that Jesus died because of our sins, each of our individual sins.
It seemed both devastatingly depressing and hopeless codependent to me. If a friend saved your life by grabbing you out of the street just as a speeding car almost ran you down, you’d be plenty grateful. But if that same friend demanded you verbally acknowledge that fact a couple dozen times every day and then dedicate a special week to thinking about nothing other than that moment when they grabbed you, after a while you’d hate your friend. After a few years of that you might even wish they had let you take your chances on street, or at the very least told you what the expectation was going to be before they saved you.
We also spent the week cleaning our already spotless convent. As we scrubbed the underside of a sink with a toothbrush, wiped imaginary dust from the doorjambs and disinfected the ceilings, Sister Milagro would ask “When we see things are neat and orderly, what does it remind us of?”
It reminded me of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it turns out the right answer was “God.”
I was continually confused by Sister Milagro’s questioning. It felt like I was the perpetual losing contestant on the “Who Wants To Be A Living Saint” game show. In retrospect, I would have done okay if I’d learned to rotate three answers: “God,” “The Virgin Mary” and “Because I suck as a human being.”
Holy Week was also when we were introduced to the book True Devotion to Mary, which is a book designed especially to pulverize self esteem. One section reads: “We are all more evil than serpents, more stubborn than donkeys, more stupid than oxen, more slothful than pigs.” Sister Milagros shared this portion with us in chapel one night and I fell over laughing. Something about the random animal comparisons and the bizarreness of the ritual just struck me as funny. Who said are oxen are stupid? By whose measure? Of course, the harder I tried not to laugh, the harder I laughed, and then my other group sisters started to laugh, and then we were all shaking with silent giggles.
So after asking what was so funny, Sister Milagros just threw up her hands and said, “Very well sisters, just go to bed. You will not be able to keep Jesus company tonight.”
We were supposed to be having all night adoration of the Blessing Sacrament and as usual, we were exhausted. As I brushed my teeth, I confess I thought, “That certainly worked out well.”
New surprises came every day, each more unpleasant than the last. Especially memorable was the morning Sister Milagro lectured us about why, if we really loved Jesus, we would mortify ourselves by using the bathroom no more than once a day. This seemed so ludicrous to me, I thought she must be kidding. So I started to laugh. She was neither kidding nor amused by my reaction. She was even less amused when she overheard me whispering to another member of my group, “Great. Just call me Sister Mary Bladder Infection.”
Another rather unsavory surprise came as a result of the time we spent in the chapel. We knelt for prayer on the bare concrete floor for three hours and forty-five minutes each day. Because of this, we developed oozing calluses on our knees which would stick to our habits when we knelt, rip open when we got up, and begin oozing again. We explained to our mistress how this was wreaking havoc with our laundry which-of course-we washed by hand. She pointed to the crucifix. “What wound do you think you are making in Jesus’ tender flesh when you complain about spending time with him?”
My response might have been a tad sarcastic: “Oh, sister those wounds aren’t from us. All those wounds were already there. I guess they were made by the sisters who had so little love for Jesus they went to the bathroom twice today.”