By Michelle Francl-Donnay
A little after 7 on a sultry August morning, my neighbor found me sitting on my driveway, leaning up against the brick wall, my backpack beside me. My clothes looked like they’d been slept in – which in fact, they had. I was hot and sweaty and desperately wanted a shower. “Are you all right?” she wondered. “I’m fine, except….” I sheepishly admitted I was locked out.
The day before I had walked the mile and a bit to be the overnight host at my parish’s shelter for the homeless. Because I hadn’t driven, I hadn’t thought to take my keys. And earlier that morning, as I helped the youngest guest into the van that would take him to the day center, I let the door to the parish school swing shut. It locked, and I didn’t have the key. Unworried about being locked out of one place, I headed home. What I hadn’t banked on was that my usually early-to-rise husband would choose that morning to sleep in.
For a moment, I was an exile, a wanderer with only my toothbrush, my prayer book and a novel for company.
In the early morning stillness, sure of my eventual rescue, I found myself contemplating what it might be like if I were in truth turned out of my house, really exiled. What would I do? Where would I go? In his “Confessions,” St. Augustine suggests two approaches to exile: struggling on through “trackless wastes, or turning to the way that is protected.”
As I waited, more or less patiently, for the first stirrings of life in my house, the prayer that so often ends my day ran through my head. Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae … ad te clamamus, exsules filli Evae… Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy…to you we do cry, poor banished children of Eve. We beg her to show us the way out of exile, her Son – Augustine’s “way that is protected.”
Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the fourth century and Augustine’s teacher, sketches a map of the path out of exile, “Forgive me…once You have forgiven me, I will no longer be in foreign parts…I shall be a member of God’s household.”
Amidst Ordinary time, and summer’s abundant graces of light and warmth, I stop to consider if I’ve lost track of the paths that I trod in Lent, seeking in that traditional desert time the ways of repentance and forgiveness. Like ads for sunscreen in January, thoughts of penance and mercy seem out of season.
But for us, mercy is always on offer, the sacramental graces of forgiveness are not seasonal, but abundantly provided in confession and the Eucharist. Forgiveness isn’t just for Lent, but a way out of exile in any season.
In the end, all I had to do to get back in the house was phone and rouse my sleeping spouse. Knock, and the door will be opened. My physical exile ended with a shower and clean clothes. My sense of spiritual exile? Confession is likewise a phone call away. I think I can find my way, even in these ordinary times.
Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us, and after this exile show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O Clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.