I typed up this little story last time I was in Peru and posted it on Facebook, where I’ve slaved away giving Mark Zuckerburg some of the best content of my life. (Hah!) Nonetheless, I was exasperated and had to vent somewhere. People still come up to me and talk about this story; it evidently made an impact.
I thought about it again as I made arrangements to once again travel down to that beautiful land of mountains, jungles, deserts, and the some of the most heartwarming people you ever hope to meet. I was staying at Coricancha, the Dominican residence, which is an honor and a blessing; tho I rarely saw any of the friars and didn’t know my way around the Priory.
Hence the following came to pass.
So, about this morning – to make a long story even longer… I woke up this morning feeling more tired than I have since I arrived here and felt the altitude adjustment more acutely after walking around all day yesterday, wanting to stay in bed all day.
But, the Priory I am staying in has Mass at 7 AM, and I wanted to finally meet the Prior, who Fr. Angel had written to so that I might stay here. So I got up, showered, threw on my clerics and headed down to Mass.
Now, if you’re not part of the Dominican community here, you use the outside door, So, I passed through the elaborate series of doors leading to the lobby, carefully closing every door behind me, only to find that the lobby door was deadbolted shut in a major way. And the door I had just come through was locked — I was locked in the lobby with no way out.
I tried every other door in the place to no avail. I knocked and knocked and knocked. And knocked and knocked and knocked…. keeping in mind the Scripture that to he who knocks the door shall be answered, and the various lines about persistence.
Finally, I just sat on the hard wooden benches and just waited. A beautiful statue of San Martin de Porres and myself, alone together. I hadn’t brought my Breviary, as I was in a rush. My rosary I had put in a separate place, rather than in my pocket to have in Church. So, I prayed as one might when trapped in a Priory lobby.
I thought of the lives of St. Martin de Porres and his friend, the patron saint of Peru, St. Rose of Lima. It occurred to me that Rose and her spiritual idol/patroness (and mine) amongst the saints, St. Catherine of Siena, would have relished the opportunity for suffering, and for the quietude and penance of being stuck in the lobby on a hard bench. I knocked again and again, etc. I prayed.
Finally, my first world “I’m getting out of here one way or the other!” nature took hold, and if it hadn’t I’d still be there, no doubt languishing on the lobby floor, napping on the stones, trying to offer it up and not be irritated with the other guests, who passed through the OTHER door, which is used on Sundays, and who obviously heard me knocking and asking for help.
After the negating the idea of breaking through the glass window of the office, or kicking through the door, which would no doubt appear vulgar to the Prior and everyone else here, I noticed a pair of keys lying on the desk under the window, which has one of those tiny spaces which one passes things through. And, just like every Hollywood movie you’ve ever seen, I reached through the tiny opening and for the life of me could not reach the set of keys, coming within inches of doing so.
It was killing me.
But I could not let it get the better of me. I looked again at the statue of St. Martin, and the fading flowers underneath him. I picked out a long, strong branch, and reached through trying to hook the keys onto it and lift them up. They fell off, and it would have only caused them to fall to the floor, or completely out of reach had I continued to do so.
I sat down on the hard bench again, and contemplated lying on the cold stone floor (which both St. Catherine and St. Rose would have relished — it wouldn’t have happened to St. Martin, because he lived in the priory,) until someone opened the lobby (which come to find out, would be tomorrow morning.)
All around were signs offering courses in Dominican teaching, which in Spanish is “El Curso del Dominico”, and which I started reading as the Curse of the Dominicans (God bless them.) I started poking through the rooms, and noticed there was a children’s room and thought that there might be something there which would work as a stronger hook to pick up the keys through the window – like a coat hanger or something.
And then, there it was… an old, fading, thrown in the corner, falling apart at the seams, black and white umbrella (Dominican colors.) I took it and tore it apart, getting one of the long thin wires out of it, and making a hook with it. It worked! And I got the set of keys!
Of course, they opened nothing. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I thought about the large set of doors which appeared to be a closet, and thought why not try that? I could at least sweep the floors.
One of the keys opened that set of doors, and it was actually a large classroom, which opened onto the courtyard of the priory, from which I could go right back to my room and fall asleep. But I went over to the cook’s door, a kind, indigenous man who I’ve been having some good conversations with and knocked and went in hoping for a cup of coffee.
He doesn’t work on Sundays, only a younger guy who is a bit clueless. I showed him where I had been, and what I had done, not that it mattered. I just wanted someone to know that I had been locked up in the Lobby for over an hour. It seemed much, much longer. He looked like I had stepped out of the Twilight Zone.
I walked over to the Church, where everyone was leaving, then looked around for Churches where Masses were going on because there are about twenty thousand within a ten block area (hyperbole,) much like New Orleans. The Cathedral had a 9 AM Mass which, being in South America, started around 9:15.
I understood most of it, even though it was in Spanish and my Spanish is obviously not great. Which gave way to thoughts about why people hate the Latin Mass so much because you can’t understand it. And the music was really irritating, involving a Hammond organ with major vibrato switched on. I prayed again, that as I received the Eucharist my irritation and various other emotions, might be uplifted.
The poor woman next to me had a terrible cold and was blowing her nose constantly… we shook hands at the sign of peace. I decided to receive Communion on the tongue, as they do here, and the Priest, seeing me in clerics held out the Ciborium for me to take myself, which does happen at Masses occasionally.
To wrap it up, I went back and prayed, and actually did experience a spiritual easement of my frustrations and anxieties. I had been handing out Nuevo Soles to the poor as I pondered the Works of Mercy and, as I left, a poor woman was praying fervently at the Marian altar in front of the Cathedral. I handed her a 20 Nuevo Sole note, (I’m reporting, not bragging,) and stepped outside to see the Peruvian Army marching around the Plaza de Armas, replete with everything but water cannons and tanks, and went into one of those culture shock moments where you feel like you’re actually in the Twilight Zone.
I came home to the Priory, entered through the proper door for Sundays, and slept for seven hours.
If you’ve made it this far, well God bless you… it’s actually the short form. Shortly, I’ll be back in bed, reading… it’s a day of rest after all. I’m just thankful it’s not on the cold stone floor of the lobby because had I not discovered that umbrella, I would no doubt still be there.
Thank you, Lord, Jesus Christ, for knowing my heart — all of it — and for still loving me.