Monday, May 7, 2012

My God, He Looks Like Churchill

I suppose that one could say that for the last few days I have been in rural Poland. After spending Friday morning exploring , during which time we visited the church where JPII was baptized, we bid farewell to Fr. Pawl and were driven by Fr. Marcin's brother Bart to his hometown. We arrived mid-afternoon, and having gone through the necessary hugging and greeting of the town's prodigal son, we set about sampling the various delicacies Fr. Marcin's mother had been baking from the moment she received word that we had touched down in Krakow.

Fr. Marcin's childhood home is an enchanting place. The house is three stories, with a kitchen and separate dining room consuming most of the main level and bedrooms and a den above. Behind the house lies a track of land about 100 yards in length that has been painstakingly converted into a garden over the years. Raspberries, apples, flowers and some vegetables grow in various plots around the area. To one side of the house are grape vines for wine making. Similar vines climb ropes to provide shade over the balcony outside the den in the summer. Having eaten and acquainted ourselves with our new environs, we all decided a brief nap was in order. We awoke in time to catch a ride to the parish church where we were entertained briefly by the pastor before vesting and joining the already assembled congregation for Marian devotions.

May is, of course, a month dedicated to our Blessed Mother. In the States this generally means that we do a May Crowning of Our Lady on the first weekend of the month and that perhaps school children and old ladies will occasionally bring flowers to leave near her statue. While admirable, these practices are only a shadow of what occurs in every pariah in Poland. Beginning May 1 and continuing throughout the month, people gather for Eucharistic Adoration every evening during which time they sing the Litany of Loreto and sometimes pray the Rosary. The devotion ends with the celebration of Mass.

Arriving in the sacristy, we were swarmed by servers (all boys) of varying ages who were instructed to help us vest. Like Mexicans laying shingles, these young acolytes had us all appropriately dressed in short order. When I say that they dressed us, I mean this quite literally. The priest stands in one place as the servers bring the vestments and place them on the priest.

We sat in the sanctuary throughout the devotions and then returned to the sacristy in order to process back into the Church for Mass. The Mass itself had only one server, Conrad, who must be about ten. While I intend no slight to our American servers, I am left to conclude that we expect entirely too little of acolytes in our own country. Conrad knew exactly what needed to be done and when to do it. He was attentive to the celebrant who had forgotten something in the sacristy and he was quick to obey the sacristan who called him back to the sacristy a second time to bring another forgotten item. Besides this, he was quick to show me all in gestures where to go and what to do as I helped distribute Holy Communion - an experience a bit like one imagines a run on the bank after the stock market collapse of 1929.

Following Mass we joined the pastor and his four associates for a light dinner. Walking home we stopped for coffee and ice cream. We watched a video on Fr. Marcin's computer, cursed the spotty wireless connection (which is why I did not post earlier) and then went to sleep so as to be fresh for the main event of our visit. Fr. Marcin's oldest niece was to receive her first Holy Communion on Sunday morning.

First Communion is a big deal in Poland. The church was decorated beautifully. In all, eleven priests concelebrated the Mass. Most were from this parish originally and were there to witness relatives receive the sacrament. The children were dressed all alike in white albs. The girls had light blue trim on their garments while the boys' albs were trimmed in red. Most of the girls wore a white fur trimmed shoulder cape and a crown of flowers. If my memory serves me, 154 children received First Holy Communion. This was a small class we were told later. The children approached the altar two by two and knelt at a kneeler placed at the front of the main isle where they received the Eucharist on the tongue. In Poland it is not customary for the laity to receive the Precious Blood, nor, I think, would it be practical. The people in attendance were so numerous that they spilled out the doors into the courtyard.

While awed by the faith, devotion, reverence, and traditions of these people, I found myself feeling a little homesick. I wanted to be among me own people greeting them, teasing my servers, and hearing confessions. It is good to get away and it has been a marvelous trip to date, but in that moment, I longed to be home.

With Mass completed, and the twenty some servers having helped us remove our vestments we were ready to return to the house for an enormous lunch. The table was crowded, the family was loud and happy, and I was longing for an excuse to be alone. Having politely eaten like a pig, I excused myself and made my way to my room for a lengthy nap. When I arose, I made my way downstairs where the crowd had dissipated only slightly, and where most people were still eating. Astonished, I meandered to the balcony off of the dining room to enjoy an afternoon cigar. I was there only a few minutes before Fr. Marcin emerged giggling. His Godmother, having glimpsed me through the window had announced, "My God. He looks like Churchill!" There are worse people to look like I suppose.

The entire evening was dedicated to a discussion of the state of the Church and the state of the State in Poland. I have a great deal to say about the former, but that is for another post. For now, I conclude with these observations:

1) Brothers are much the same regardless of where they are from. Seeing Fr. Marcin with his brothers makes me miss my own.

2) I want to take Conrad home with me. Shy and precocious, I am now terribly curious about him, and frustrated that I haven't the language to speak to him.

3) Priests are good men. While my life and the lives of the priests here are wildly different, we still speak the language of common experience - baptisms, Mass, confessions, and the like. We share a fraternity not to be found elsewhere.

4) I shall always be an introvert. Loud crowded tables exhaust me, regardless of the language spoken by the guests therein.

5) I am deeply grateful to be an American and a priest, and I am grateful to be both in a place where I can fish. I hope I have enough energy to get out and get my line wet after driving back from Sioux Falls on Saturday.


  1. Ahh, sounds like a grand time, Sir Winston! Have you heard that you have a new niece?

  2. Hi Father Tyler, I am glad you like my country! Come back soon we miss you in our Parish!!!
    God bless!

  3. Fr. Tyler,
    I am glad you like my country... however, come back soon as we miss you in our Parish....
    Have a safe trip back and God bless!


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