No one is surprised more than me onto myself for having a heart warming affinity with Catholicism. When I was a wee lady of 10 years old I asked my mother for permission to go to Catholic school. Sure, we lived in a diverse neighborhood filled with many children from Mexico? I really loved going to my neighbor’s house to just hang about eating tortillas passed over the fire with hot fingers. The art of flipping a flour or corn tortilla until it is perfectly warmed and having some charcoal blisters was indeed an art!
The smell when you entered my childhood friends apt, her Grandmother sitting in the kitchen on a simple straw chair. Tortillas were what the Japanese offer in a cup of tea. Abundance and the universal generosity. Tea is most likely more medicinal and quite easily lends itself to rituals bordering on high holiness. Yet, tortillas are the essence of my childhood memories. The bravado of the Chicano Mexican culture pervades Los Angelinos more than one realizes like a sunny day encourages joy? There is such humility and deliciousnesss! I forgot about the butter. Yes, long before all the new fads of margarine we all ate crispy corn or flour tortillas with salty butter. Heaven! So, if it was eating all those tortillas and sitting within the silence of my neighbors non-English speaking Grandmother at Christmas time made my heart curiouser and curious about being Catholic? I simply cannot remember…. I remember sitting on the humble comfy couch of Patricia Gonzalez with the creche of baby Jesus. How they adored. In my other best friends house Mitsuko and Keiko McMurray whom were half Japanese and half Irish, they had like my Grandparents Japanese gargoyle type masks of tengu spirits with long noses and menacing faces like Kyoto Maurice Sendak’s Where the wild things are. Frightful faces! No one ever bothered to explain these Japanese nuances in culture it was simply something we all grew up with.
In any event? Just where my first exposure to Catholicism emerged is deep in the recesses of many many tortillas with melted butter memories. No one else in my family showed any interest in spite of dating Chicano fellas! So, I have to attribute it to something more mystical or my Irish Grandmother. In the last years I have gone to a local basilica to meditate, pray and reflect often for many years. Most of my life I found peace and solace but I never got involved in the mass or the actual liturgy since I was in Catholic school. The day of my first holy communion in the not so Spanish dress my my had made was magnificent. A simple A-line thick white silk brocade from the Silk Road and I embarassed not to dress like a Mexican princess. My Mother was so very wise to always encourage me to simply be myself and if that was to explore Catholic school? She was my own magical Mother Maruko Mary guiding me like a wildflower rose.
I promptly went back to the heathen public school where girls and boys played basketball on the same playground. Fist fights and Saint Patricks day pinching massacres if you did not wear green. I was petrified to realize a gang of rather large beaked little feisty birds surrounding my that day ready to pinch the hell out of me! My sisters only painted a shamrock on my face and I was otherwise dressed in my favorite little dress of brown paisley with a huge yellow corset type belt with horrible black orthopedic shoes. The biggest beaked girl said “you’re gonna get it with those ugly shoes and you’re not wearing green.” One of those memorable traumatic rites of passage. I said what sort of Saint is this that I am going to be scourged by birds! I cried as they pinched me then suddenly out of the clear blue sky I whirled around and I don’t know where it came from but I made a fist and I decked the biggest girl of them all! I said perhaps I like this Saint Patrick because now I was invited to become school vice President because I beat up the biggest girl in school! Terrible to say such things on the belated birthday celebration of a wonderful Saint of all Saints. Jean Baptiste Vianney.
The day of his feast is not until August but I got it confused with his birthday. Which was May 8th. I am or was ashamed at first to show my exuberance as it is so conservative and so unhip! Yet, I believe in miracles, I have seen them myself and i attribute one of them to Saint Philomena and Saint John Baptiste Vianney. I began going to just sit at a local parish and to my surprise Father George W. Rutler was giving homilies. He is incredibly hip! I am quite sure that he has read all of the richest classics from Chaucer to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. He is well versed in all French recipes. He also is a Priest of Buddhist persuasion in some sliver or glimmer of a way. You cannot plan these things you simply cannot. I heard him speaking about the ego and compulsions. How a scientist knows more than anyone the limitations of science. Yet, he certainly has been well read in the laws of Physics. His homilies can even refer to the Burmese Lady of the Buddhas. Like a great musician or chef can take any recipe or composition and find the universal conduit which ties it all to a jazzy magical flavor. I found myself listening to his homilies and feeling very refreshed and inspired. The sincerity of his mass and adoration of the eucharist so rich and full of sacred mystery. I started to wake up and an idea or inspiration would come into my mind and strangely his homily would tie into this intuition I had just dreamt of in my sleep. I truly began to wonder if there is not an empowering gift of grace.
What is grace I am not fit to define. I believe it was all meant to be. I came to the East Coast to study Rinzai Zen Buddhism of the Mahayana sect and not once but twice? I found myself in the solace the “Little Church around the Corner” A true gem and miniature museum. The magical qualities like a scarlet velvet heart enrobing me like a cloister of beauty in utterly unrelated Churches. I put all my soul into studying Zen as much as I am able, yet just as you cannot learn either boxing or ballet from a catalog or book? I very much believe a true ordained Buddhist Master whom the sacred transmission of the Buddha soul and mind has been transmitted. Thus I have heard that like a torch one fire must alight another! The original Buddha Shakyamuni himself thought it was a good idea and he made it a cardinal and pivotal foundation to do so. Now days one can listen to Robert Thurman talk about the magical world of the Buddha in all it’s Himalayan ego slaying richness. The miracles of roaring elephants, tigers, multicolored birds stopping in their tracks in the midst of full velocity un-expectantly before the Buddha meditating. His mind had the sheer focus and power to cross beyond the laws of our understanding of physics. All the court of beasts and even flowers leaned towards the magnificence of his mind. Little snails crawled up his spine when he was deep in absorption of meditation to guard and protect his fragile exposed sacred cranium. Hence those peculiar curled locks are snails not a hip hop hair doo! I smile. So, if we can check the decibel of elemental forces like electricity, fire or seismic quakes which may occur? Why should I doubt there truly is a method which is sacred and unequivocably authentic which Buddhist Masters can decipher of the life forces and they are a bit more serious than Jedi Masters! I have not in my life time met a true enlightened Buddhist Master? I went to listen to the Dalai Lama and I believe the mere existence of his cause is proof enough of his wondrousness and guardian protected realms of purpose for the Tibetan people. However, I have never spoke to him personally about Buddhism and it is a lot more than posing in a photo or having him drink my tea and eat my mo mo recipe for a dumpling! There are monks which can levitate. Yet, here in America and the Western hemispheres it is unlikely you are going to hang out with the Dalai Lama or anyone like him. So, I grew despondent regarding my studies and living at the Buddhist institute. It is like having a gas stove but no knob to turn on the fire to cook? There is no pivotal axis here in New York for me but there are wonderful Priests.
Father Rutler in particulare has a tremendous fondness for Jean Baptiste Vianney. When it was his feast day I could not help but cry. He appeared in his finest vestments of creme and ecru. He was so radiant he looked like a newly born enfant himself. He announced the feast of his guardian Saint of his parish. He read aloud a sermon I am yet to find but it was very Buddhist to me about the conduit of electricity of the heart. I certainly cannot explain it but I was very much moved. I saw in him resurrected such joy, purpose and respect for this humble patron of priests Saint Vianney. I saw that before every mass after taking confessions Father Rutler would kneel before the statue of Saint Vianney and then prepare for mass. Sincerity is sincerity and it is golden and illuminating in any culture. It lights up the entire room with a divinity. I read stories certainly about jasmine scented birds playing flutes like angels in India handing monks courage redolent with love. Why is smelling roses suddenly in a church any different? I could smell roses when no roses were there. Well, I can write forever and revisit my interest in Catholicism and Zen Buddhism. How the tea ceremony began as a serious and solemn ritual of Buddhist priests not a I have a Prada bag and some Christian Dior shoes while I’m sipping matcha tea and learning Chinese tea ceremony. This would be like me taking the Popes Golden Chalice and drinking beer out of it. Yet, how would anyone know the true meaning of the deeply magnetic ritual of the original tea ceremony from either China or Japan. All these mysteries are often obscured like the philosopher’s stone of the Alchemists.
I will say that I got on my knees and begged Saint Vianney and his Saint of miracles Saint Philomena for a miracle and it was answered against all odds my beloved survived a terrible medical ordeal and accident. So, I simply must cry and pledge my honor to this wonderful Saint whom I am yet to learn more about. I have read most of The Cure D’ Ars by Father Rutler. It gave me so much solace and strangely I lost it with a cell phone cord was eaten by a mouse in Williamsburg? A RABBI returned it to me with the $100.00 dollar bill I used as a book mark. This alone was magic. I thank heavens for such a wonderfully devoted soul to helping children, the poor and the lost and disheartened. Brightest Blessings to all on the birth of this magical Saint Vianney.
“When our hands have touched spices, they give fragrance to all they handle. Let us make our prayers pass through the hands of the Blessed Virgin. She will make them fragrant.” Quote by Saint Vianney