The editorial of the month

The editorial of the month by Father Sebastian White, o.p.

As you have probably picked up on by now (I haven’t exactly been subtle about it), I am proud of my New England roots and look forward to the opportunities I have each year to visit my family in Maine: once right after Christmas and once about now. These brief sojourns typically involve pitching in at the local parish, little outings with my family, and the consumption of numerous lobsters. Besides all that, my week in the nation’s northeastern-most state at this time last year turned out to be uniquely meaningful.

Holy sights

First, by the time I boarded the bus here in Manhattan in late July it had been more than a year since my last home visit, December’s trip having been thwarted by Covid’s second wave. So when the signs for Kittery, Maine’s southernmost town, finally appeared on I-95, I couldn’t help but think of the words of the children’s writer and essayist E. B. White, who moved to the Maine coast in the 1930s: “What happens to me when I cross the Piscataqua and plunge rapidly into Maine at a cost of seventy-five cents in tolls? I cannot describe it. I do not ordinarily spy a partridge in a pear tree, or three French hens, but I do have the sensation of having received a gift from a true love. And when, five hours later, I dip down across the Narramissic and look back at the tiny town of Orland, the white spire of its church against the pale-red sky stirs me in a way that Chartres could never do.”

In my case, it was the grey spire belonging to Saint John the Baptist Church further inland in Winslow, the next town over from mine and where I said Mass the first day back. It’s where my mother went to school as a little girl and where she married my father forty-five years ago this month.

Additionally, though it lacks a spire, the sight of another local church stirred me deeply: the chapel of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, just down the street from my parents’ house. I prayed and attended Mass in that chapel many times before becoming a priest—and continue to stop in for prayer and silence and to get out of my parents’ hair for a while—so I was honored that the nuns invited me last year to preach their retreat. It was scheduled for the week I would be home, and I could simply walk down to the convent each morning to give the sisters a short conference, celebrate Mass, and even stay for their midday meal. (The sisters insisted that I preserve the afternoons for gallivanting with Mom and Dad.)

Trusting in God always

A contemplative community centered on adoration, the Servants were founded by Saint Peter Julian Eymard in France in 1859. After establishing a presence in Canada, the sisters came with their love for the Eucharist to Waterville, Maine, in 1947. Many in the area remember being brought to the chapel as children, and their procession on Corpus Christi was for years a beloved festival. To this day one of the elderly nuns is a local celebrity for having ridden a bike around town for decades.

The sisters cannot possibly account for all the graces that have come to the people who have frequented their chapel over the course of seventy-five years, nor all the graces they have won for us by their own consecration, prayer, and suffering. In 1996 the sisters bore a heavy cross: two of the nuns were killed and two seriously injured by a man with mental illness. It was a stunning tragedy for the community and our ordinarily quiet town. But the sisters immediately began praying for the man. “Our stance is still forgiveness,” one of them said to a journalist years later, “we stand by that.”

Never would I have imagined when I heard the news of the tragedy as a freshman in high school that twenty-five years later I would be standing at their altar offering the sacrifice of the Mass, which continues to pour out the infinite love and mercy of Christ, who conquers death and heals all wounds. I pray that, by the mercy of God, they will one day see plainly the fruits of their vocation and their fidelity. Perhaps the sisters’ willingness to love in the midst of great sorrow encouraged others to persevere in carrying their own cross. Perhaps the sisters’ willingness to forgive helped someone else, nearby or far away, find the will to forgive, too.

He dwells among us

A century and a half ago, Saint Peter Julian could not have identified all the places his congregation would end up, promoting love for the Holy Eucharist in places he’d never even heard of. But I thank God for leading them to my hometown. Though I now call home a Dominican priory in New York City—and even have the Blessed Sacrament just across the hall from where I write this essay—one’s childhood home maintains a rightful place in one’s heart. Growing up I did not always appreciate its quaintness and simplicity. Absence and maturity make the heart grow fonder, however, and now I see more clearly how it fulfills in its own small way Maine’s unofficial motto: “the way life should be.”

Wherever we happen to call home, and whatever crosses our life has contained, or still contains, may we find peace of soul this month in the knowledge that Jesus dwells among us in the Blessed Sacrament. And as we continue to bring our prayers, joys, works, and sorrows to Holy Mass, may we know all the more firmly that it is indeed the way life should be.