Sister Jean and Holy Week: The Trouble with Time

Loyola's queen, the good Sister Jean...

It’s Sister Jean’s fault that I’m feeling some type of way.

Part of it is that she, the Loyola men’s basketball chaplain, is 98 and seemingly unstoppable. I’m 35 and have some version of plantar fasciitis. It’s not time for me too feel as old as I do.

Part of it is that by her international stardom, people I haven’t spoken to in years are reaching out to ask whether I know her. I have a degree from Loyola and currently work there, so it’s a reasonable question. As I reply I’m filled with nostalgia, wondering how friends have fallen away and where the time has gone.

Part of it is that the power of her prayer seems so palpable, so direct, that Loyola keeps winning. And thus, I find myself in a crisis of time. The biggest basketball game for Loyola University Chicago since 1963 horribly overlaps with the moment the Church will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Final Four vs. Holy Saturday. I can’t be in two places at one time.

Yep – I feel some type of way. I’m blaming Sister Jean.

I should be blaming time.

***

When I’m on long road trips, I have a little routine to help move the drive along. At whatever point I think to do it, I look at the clock and memorize the time. Then, I sing ‘Life is a Highway’ at the top of my lungs. I stop for a bag of Snyder’s of Hanover Honey Mustard & Onion pretzel pieces. I debate whether to wipe pretzel dust on my seat. I wipe pretzel dust on my seat. I open the window, letting my hand cut through the air like a hang glider. Then, I glance back at the clock remembering the previous time. Somehow the ride feels like it’s flying by. This strategy works for a long drive, but not for long stretches of living.

As a praying man, I’ve made some commitment to reflect on the contours and content of each day. But, I really don’t remember much of my life since Lent began. I remember looking at the date on my computer and memorizing it a while back: February 13th, the day before Ash Wednesday. I thought of that date suddenly yesterday afternoon. The end of March. Weeks have gone by without much recollection. I didn’t give anything up. I didn’t commit to anything new. I don’t feel closer to God. It’s almost as if I’ve let someone down. As a Catholic, I should be all over Lent. Now, Lent is all over.

I’m realizing that I spend much of my life either sprinting to the next great thing or wishing I could get back hours, days, months, and years. It’s not possible though. And, as I ponder the past and future, I lose myself in the present.

***

I’m jealous of Sister Jean. Not because she’s living a beautiful and long life. Or, has international fame and gets to be courtside at the Final Four. It’s that I imagine she has nowhere else to be at this moment. Not even the players on Loyola’s basketball team can say that. They’re still students with final exams on the horizon. Her sole charge is to pray for and be with those players, and take every interview she can to spread her joy. Simple. Lovely.

These next days, I’m called to be in Church. I’ll hear the stories again – a last supper, a long night in a jail cell, a painful walk up a winding hill, a brutal death. In my prayer, I’ll imagine I’m with Jesus in those moments, sharing that meal, humming a simple tune to break long silences, carrying his cross if he needs me. I’ll weep as I watch him suffer. Then, when hope has all but died, I’ll find him alive again.

Because of Sister Jean, I feel some type of way. When I get over myself and my jealousy, what’s left is a feeling of gratitude. When I witness her willingness to be right where she is, I can be right where I am, remembering that I am an Easter person, and that goodness and light are right here and right now. And, if I so choose, I can forget my tricks to make time pass or abandon the sadness of looking back and growing up. It frees me to be exactly where I need to be – at Jesus’s side. If I miss most of the Loyola game, so be it.

And, I’ll remember that checking a score during Mass is, I hope, forgivable.

-//-

Author’s note: I’m told that after Loyola won their Elite Eight match-up last Saturday night, Sister Jean called in a favor with the Atlanta Jesuits and had Palm Sunday Mass before the team traveled back to Chicago. Something tells me she’ll get her church in this Holy Week, too. Jesus is still her number one. Prayers for her and our team.

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