Regardez! Il vient!

I realize that this message is posting on November 1st, All Saints Day. But I wrote it on October 31st, Eve of Samhain. So . . .

Happy Halloween ya’ll. Today the veil between the worlds, if we can believe what the witches tell us (and I don’t any reason why we shouldn’t), is at its thinnest. Like cheese cloth. There are souls moving back and forth across the threshold. Look alive. There is magic afoot.

Emily sent this letter from . . . the Other Side.

#431, c. 1862

Me — come! My dazzled face
In such a shining place!
Me — hear! My foreign Ear
The sounds of Welcome — there!

The saints forget
Our Bashful feet —

My Holiday, shall be
That They — remember me —
My Paradise — the fame
That They — pronounce my name —

This morning I woke at dawn, washed my face, read the above poem, and then like any good witch, I went to church. The occasion for my darkening the door of St. Anthony of Padua Church on Canal Street was a special eucharist mass for a visitor from abroad. The first person to set eyes on the resurrected Christ, the Apostle of Apostles, has come all the way from the diocese of Frejus-Toulon. She left her lonely grotto in France, where she has been living for 730 years, to visit us. New Orleans is one stop on her 32-city tour of the United States.

Mary Magdalene, or what’s left of her, is here. The little we can see of her consists of a piece of shin bone. According to the reports, it was discovered by revelation beneath the crypt in the cathedral in Marseilles with a parchment that indicated these were the remains of Mary Magdalene. The Vatican does not agree that these are the literal bones of the woman we read about in the Bible, but someone decided it’s okay to call it that as long as such a discussion encourages prayer. (sheesh!) So that’s how the shin bone got to New Orleans.

I am lucky enough to arrive at St. Anthony’s at the moment that Mary Magdalene (or MM as I started short-handing her name in my notebook) makes the journey from her tour bus to the front door of the church where dozens of early rising faithful gather to venerate her and pray for favors. (By mid-morning, the line would be out the door.) Four men carry the reliquary on a bier. One of the men wears a Saints jacket, a large gold fleur-de-lis on his back. I am certain that Mary Magdalene would be pleased to know that our Bless You Boys are 6 and 0 this season so far. (They’re playing the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. All Soul’s Day. It’s a division game, Beloved Apostle of Apostles. We sure could use another win.)

The procession pauses for a moment on the sidewalk outside the church. The man who has brought MM on her world tour, Richard, wants to address the relic. Richard wears a sky-blue hooded blouse with a large radiating red heart stitched onto the front. When MM is not in the mood for display, her minders drape her with a crimson quilted cloth, trimmed in thick gold fringe. Richard embraces the reliquary, pressing his cheek into the crimson folds of her cover and kisses it. MM is like a canary, still slumbering beneath the draped bars of her cage.

“Okay, we’re going to let you out now,” says Richard. “These people are going to be very nice to you.” He speaks as though to a shy debutante. Then whoosh! He pulls away the cover to reveal . . . a small piece of bone.  About six inches in length, it is knobby at one end, then tapers to a sharp point at the other, and wears deep grooves like a piece of driftwood that has been under water for a long time. Mary Magdalene’s relic rests on a velvet bed, encased in glass. She is tied down with delicate golden threads. Four gilded angels stand guard around her bed.

“Welcome to New Orleans!” Richard’s voice is giddy with joy. His face alive. He kneels before the relic. Her minders tilt the bier toward him so he can kiss the glass that holds the bone. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Later, inside St. Anthony’s, after mass, Richard tells us his story. He is a former evangelical pastor who left the Protestant fold to embrace the Roman Church. For this apostasy, he says he lost all his friends, his money, and he received “hate mail from all over the world.” Here, I’ve been wondering when we would no longer be mired in the War of Northern Aggression. How delightful to know the rest of the world is still working out the violence of the Reformation. Richard says he doesn’t care about all that he lost by switching teams because he did it for the Blessed Mother who has rewarded him by transforming his core wound—that his own mother had abandoned him at birth—into a source of love not bitterness. Now he has devoted himself to evangelizing with the relic of Mary Magdalene whom he characterizes as “dynamite” and “she’s nitro glycerin.” The assembled faithful applaud this description.

Richard got the idea to travel with MM when he was sitting with her relics in the grotto at Toulon. He and another man were there. No one else. The two men heard women’s voices. One spoke clearly enough for Richard to make out the words, “Regardez! Il vient!” Look! He’s coming! Finding no human source for the voice, Richard concluded the Mary Magdalene had spoken to him.  He took it as a sign to bring her to the world.

“Now, I’m going to tell you another attribute about her that you will never hear from anyone else,” he says. “She likes to giggle.” He heard a joyful young woman’s voice make the sound of laughter. He reproduced a high-pitched girl’s excitement: “Hee, hee, hee! Like she was waiting for someone to come. All that hope and desire. And then, Look! He’s coming!”

Indeed, welcome to New Orleans Mary Magdalene, Blessed Consort of Christ. Or as I like to think of you: The Girlfriend of the Son of God. Welcome to New Orleans. It doesn’t get any weirder than this. Welcome to our realm where the veil between the real and surreal is so thin it effectively doesn’t exist. I have one question for you, girlfriend. Who is coming? Don’t give me the obvious answer. Tell me something new. Regardez!

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