Basilique Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada
This church is full of promises kept. Thessalonians always struck me as ferociously loving. He is faithful, and he will do it, Paul writes. Do what? I always forget, just dwelling on the character reference. He will sanctify you entirely; he will keep sound and blameless your spirit, soul, and body for when he comes again. It is proposed as a prayer, but then stated as a certainty. May these things happen, I pray—but then, come on, he is faithful. He will do it. This is God we are talking about.
You enter this church under the mantle of God’s promise to Noah. The rainbow that I have put in the sky will be my sign to you, he said. I promise every living creature that the earth and those living on it will never again be destroyed by a flood. I will use the very substance of your suffering to create its antidote: my mercy refracts through rain and you remember that it’s all past tense now. This church anchors that rainbow in the alpha, omega, and Eucharist, as if to remind us that divine anger has been satisfied forever.
It is a year of broken promises, I think. Or broken expectations. They lied. I have seen more than one friend of mine express without irony the sentiment that God is pouring out his wrath on the modern world. (But I saw a rainbow just yesterday, I always want to say.) It is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath, but to me it is merely not believable. These pillars of crutches and canes strike terror in me. They demand I believe in a mercy I don’t think we deserve. Not the mercy of healing, exactly, for I’ve never seen a body that wasn’t already in the image of God. But mercy that is physically transformative, that gets in your bones and refracts. No, God, I know you promised, but we could use a flood. We’re beyond saving. Please, please, just start over.
Saint Anne grew up in an Israel that was suffering, occupied, poor. This is true of most of our Gospel characters, really, but she and her husband did not have the benefit of angels who came to tell them it was time to heal. They just carried on, and in so doing, raised the daughter whose virtue made it possible to save the world. I think this may be why the sailors of Québec loved her so. They knew what that’s like, to trust in your course, to see only the storms, never the lighthouse, which had not yet been built. I find it fantastically appropriate that this church so famous for healing has as its patroness a totally anonymous, entirely apocryphal woman. As if to add that extra layer of faith. In case you don’t feel silly enough relying on a rainbow, come here, lean on shadow, lean on halo, lean on light.
But there they are, the rainbow, the crutches.
God is faithful, and he will do it. He already has.