My black mantilla is beautiful, as is the thought behind it. It is a gift from my husband’s grandmother, who knows my appreciation for chapel veils. “It will be perfect for Holy Week,” I observed as I unwrapped it. “And the lace is so soft.” Ah, the paradox of the chapel veil. It’s an archaic tradition full of mixed messages and missed signals. Although conceived as a tool of modesty, I was first attracted by chapel veils for their beauty. The opposite of the point. The veil of the chapel lends itself to a million involuntary interpretations. The main one is that by wearing the veil, I show that I am particularly Holy and pious anybody. That’s far from being the case. So it shouldn’t have been surprising when, at Palm Sunday, that damn thing didn’t stay above my head. If the veil is a symbol of Christ’s mystical marriage to his Church, I have not been the best wife.
Another tattered romance
If you had asked me around this time last year how was my spiritual life, I would tell you that my heart was broken. Missing Easter mass crushed me. It made me sad to be separated from Holy Communion. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was one of the highlights of my life of faith. Being so sad about Easter meant that I cared about Easter. I thought it was Easter. I still believe in Easter and am grateful that I don’t have to watch Mass on TV this year, but closeness to God, like so much in life, is always more desirable when it is out of reach.
I remember a quote from Esther Perel, the famous psychotherapist who focuses on – of all things – infidelity. “The very ingredients that nourish love – reciprocity, reciprocity, protection, concern, responsibility for the other – are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire.” It may seem strange to apply concepts like desire to our relationship with God, but in fact it’s the most important romantic relationship we’ll ever have. And, like all romance, it goes up and down and – frustratingly – is often the loudest when it’s out of reach. This is how, when I finally have God within my reach, literally, when I can taste Him and unite with Him in a physical sense, my desire is the weakest. I prefer to stay in bed.
It’s holy week again
Holy Week is upon us, whether we are ready or not. Unlike His Church, which is a continual wreck, Christ is the perfect bridegroom. He is steadfast, reliable, caring, romantic. And He continues to desire us, persistently – almost exhaustingly. He gave his life for us and would do it again in a heartbeat. He does so, in fact, in the sacrifice of the Mass. But his love is not principally sacrificial. It is not just a spouse who has been in pain for a long time. The love of Christ is rooted in joy and an ecstatic desire for creation. And all that is expected of me, of all of us, is to keep showing myself. If the veil is a symbol, so is lifting it. Every time it slips off my head, pulling it out is a reminder. There you are, I tell myself. It’s Holy Week again and you are there. And again and again. Until we’re finally with God for good.