The Fourth and Not-so Great Commandment

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The Fourth and Not-so Great Commandment

San Xavier Mission is a white edifice looming off the I-19 South. It glows against the backdrop of desert dirt and blue-gray mountains. Two white towers, one with a dome atop, the other unfinished. The Mission has an asymmetrical appeal. A white cross stands on a hill near by, like Calvary. We take Exit 92 off the 19. The Mission is on the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation. We drive over a bridge, spanning the banks of the now dry Santa Cruz River. Farm land surrounds the Mission. I think of Indian water rights and the CAP canal as we drive past the fallow acres. My mother-in-law asks what they grow. "Probably cotton," I say.

"I didn't know cotton could grow in the desert," she says. "Doesn't it need a lot of water?"

I don't answer and let the question disappear with the water.

The dirt parking lot is filled with cars. People of all ages and sizes walk or stumble or are pushed towards the church. The wind blows and I smell smoke, grease and then flour. We press onward with the crowd. A gravel lot separates the parking lot from the Mission. Vendors selling fry bread and Indian Tacos stand under handcrafted ramadas made from ocotillo and saguaro skeletons. There is something desperate about the twenty or so vendors standing under similar ramadas, selling the same food for about the same price. How will I know which vendor to buy from? Will I over-hear someone suggest the gray ramada made from saguaro bones? Will I be able to discern among the twenty gray ramadas which one he is talking about? The vendors compete within a cruel economy.

Today is Sunday and that's why the Mission is so busy. San Xavier is an active parish, which means priests and friars and parsons reside there and do Catholic things. I am here for mass, like the rest of the people. I wonder if the vendors are here everyday or just on Sundays. I think of the fourth commandment, handed down by God to Moses on what I imagine to have been a foggy morning: "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."

Growing up, keeping the Sabbath day holy included church and also not leaving the house for the rest of the day in order to show true religious devotion. No shopping, no friends, no spending money, no playing. As a family we spent the day watching TV. Very reverant. I suppose for the Catholics, keeping the Sabbath day holy does not include a prohibition against spending money. They can buy fry bread after Mass. Maybe even go to a movie and then hit the gym. Attending Mass is enough remembering.

I am dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt that belongs to my husband and a pair of clear jelly shoes. As I got ready this morning, I wondered what appropriate "Mass wear" would look like. I usually wear a dress or skirt to church. My husband, still half asleep at 10:00 in the morning, threw on unwashed jeans and a t-shirt. I suspected I didn't need to dress up for the occasion. The various people at the Mission are dressed similarly-- t-shirts, jeans, hair in pony tails, sneakers. Nothing in most patron's dress and appearance suggests today is holy or they are about to participate in something special. Today is just Sunday and it's just Mass.

We edge closer to the front doors of the Mission. Mass has begun and people are spilling out the doors. A man's voice echoes from a microphone. I am not sure what he's saying, but it sounds Evangelical. My husband, his mother and sister decide we shouldn't attend Mass. We are late and there are no seats. Plus, we're not Catholic. I hide my protests. I was looking forward to tasting my first Communion wafer and discovering the purpose of Holy Water. I linger around the entrance as they walk off towards the museum. I realize the intention was never to go to Mass. I had been told a lie so I would agree to come.

"How about it Sarah?" my husband had asked me last night when we were discussing possible Sunday activities. His mother is in town from Florida and wants to do all five cool things Tucson has to offer. Going to church, at least a church of our own faith, is not one of those five things. "What do you say we worship with the Catholics tomorrow?"

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