Friday, May 09, 2003
Rev. Benjamin King, Church of the Advent, Boston
Fr. Jim Tucker on May 3 posted a wonderful poem by Seamus Heaney that had been given him by a parishioner. Since the link isn't working, the poem is reprinted here.
The Sick Call
Like Gaul, the biretta was divided
Into three parts: triple-finned black serge,
A shipshape pillbox, its every slope and edge
Trimly articulated and decided.
Its insides were crimped satin; it was heavy too
But sported a light flossy tassel
That the backs of my fingers remembered well,
And it left a dark red line on the priest's brow.
I received it into my hand from the hand
Of whoever was celebrant, one thin
Fastidious movement up and out and in
In the name of the Father and of the Son AND
Of the Holy Ghost ... I placed it on the steps
Where it seemed to batten down, even half-resist
All of the brisk proceedings of the Mass -
The chalice drunk off and the patted lips.
The first time I saw one, I heard a shout
As an El Greco ascetic rose before me
Preaching hellfire, Saurian and stormy,
Adze-head on the rampage in the pulpit.
Sanctuaries. Marble. Kneeling boards. Vocation.
Some it made look squashed, some clean and tall.
It was antique as armour in a hall
And put the wind up me and my generation.
Now I turn it upside down and it is a boat -
A paper boat, or the one that wafts into
The first lines of the Purgatorio
As poetry lifts its eyes and clears its throat.
Or maybe that small boat out of the bronze age
Where the oars are needles and the worked gold frail
As the intact half of a hatched-out shell,
Refined beyond the dross into sheer image.
But in the end it's as likely to be the one
In Matthew Lawless's painting, ,
Where the scene is out on a river and it's all
Solid, pathetic and Irish Victorian.
In which case, however, his reverence wears a hat.
Undaunting, half domestic, loved in crises,
He sits listening as each long oar dips and rises,
Sad for his worthy life and fit for it.
On that note: Rev Charles Higgins of St. Theresa of Avila Parish, West Roxbury, Mass., photographed on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2000, at Holy Trinity German Church, Boston.