Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for November, 2020

The Expectation of Fulfillment (Pandemic)

When I began to quarantine in earnest again a week ago, one of the things I promised God (and, really, myself, because I was the one who would benefit most) was that I would pray the Rosary every day. Now, there’s a bit of backstory to this promise. You see, back when I was in the convent, part of our daily prayer routine was to pray at least one set of mysteries of the Rosary each day. It was one of those things that if we missed it for any reason, we had to “confess” it to our directress at the end of the day, and get a penance. And it always seemed to take up time that I secretly wanted to spend doing something else, so I had a bad habit (no pun intended) of rushing through my Rosary so that I could get on to the next thing. And then, of course, I left the convent and, shortly thereafter, the Church, and I didn’t pray the Rosary for many years.

One of the first things I bought for myself when I returned to the Church after more than 45 years away was a Rosary, which I then had blessed. But every time I tried to establish praying the Rosary as part of my daily routine, I kept coming up against the same roadblocks: it was hard to set aside a time to do it, and it was hard to devote the time it took. For awhile, I did fairly well by setting aside the time right after lunch; then when I began having little ones here all day, that schedule did not work and I couldn’t seem to give myself priority time for it in the evenings. And I still struggled with it seeming, somehow, burdensome.

And so, when it came to pass that I was going to have a LOT of time on my hands, the thought came to mind that this was an ideal time to reestablish a daily routine with the Rosary, and when I made this promise to God and our Blessed Mother and myself, I also prayed for the grace to enjoy it.

One of the things that always seemed to get in the way was the perceived need to set aside everything else and simply pray the Rosary. Unfortunately, when I did this I usually ended up having a nap. The rhythm and routine of the prayers simply relaxed me that much. And I know all about the tradition that when we fall asleep praying the Rosary, our guardian angel finished it for us, but I felt like that was really asking a lot and that I wouldn’t be getting the full benefit this way.

Perhaps it would be ideal to simply sit and pray the Rosary, but if that wasn’t working then I needed a different approach. So I begin to explore, and I found a nice app-within-an-app in the Rosary section of the Laudate app where I could use an on-screen representation of a Rosary to follow along, and I could knit on my current project while I prayed. I guess I’m just a multi-tasker at heart; I’ve never been able to just sit and read or watch TV without something in my hands, and it seemed that solitary prayer was much the same.

So I began, this past week, and what a lovely experience it is turning out to be. After lunch, I gather my knitting and set up my app, and away I go. And by some miracle (I really should not be surprised!), it turns out that my Rosary time is done in a flash, and I enjoy exploring some other daily prayers in the Laudate app before I go back to my “regularly scheduled programming.”

Best of all, this open and unhurried time has led to some wonderful moments of meditation and insight. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the simple act of having something for my hands to work on actually opens up my mind, my heart, my soul, and it’s a wonderful time of peace and reflection.

Our Lord really has a marvelous way of using the very surroundings that he gave us as a means of getting grace into our lives.

So now, finally, to the point of today’s title, “The Expectation of Fulfillment.” Most days, I find that my meditations on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary revolve around Mary’s involvement in the particular event, and what she might have thought or might have done in the moment. This feels like a fruitful way to pray the Rosary so that I get to know Mary better, and it helps me remember to turn to her throughout the day.

This past Thursday, while praying the Luminous Mysteries, the thought formed in my mind that in the events reflected by these Mysteries (all the Mysteries, really), we see how Mary and early followers of Jesus lived in an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises throughout the history of salvation.

Because they lived in this state of anticipation and expectation, God’s promises were often, if not always, foremost in their consciousness and their experience of the world around them. They lived their ordinary day-to-day lives, of course; they did all the mundane things we all must do to live and survive and thrive in the world Our Father has given us.

It seems to me like in our modern world, we’ve strayed from, even lost, to a great extent, that connection with God — that anticipation and expectation of the fulfillment of his promises. The world isn’t any bigger than it was in the time that Jesus walked on it as a man, or when his mother and his disciples and the early Christians went about their daily lives; but we have filled it with more and more things and ideas and inventions and entertainments and distractions, so much so that our focus is drawn to what we’ve filled our world with, and it is drawn away from what God would fill us with.

What a blessed relief, then, to set aside this time each day to pray the Rosary, and to reflect on those events that form the foundation of our beliefs. Perhaps in doing so, we can be led willingly back into the full anticipation and expectation of God’s fulfillment of his promises. Perhaps in renewing our focus on God’s promises, we will be open to their fulfillment in us. And perhaps we will then be open to the fullness of grace he desires to shower on us.

I know this: At this point, so late in my life, I look forward eagerly to my Rosary time every day. I enjoy this time of reflection and prayer, and I learn some new little thing each day that brings me closer to my creating, redeeming, sanctifying God through the Mother he chose for himself and then gave to us. I can’t regret any of my past foibles too much, because God for sure used them to help me grow into this present state.

And I can most certainly live with that.

Mary, beloved mother of Jesus, pray for me that I may fully enter into the mysteries of your Rosary and in doing so, may more and more fully experience the love of your son, Jesus. Amen.

What In the World, and a Reality Check (Pandemic)

What are we doing here, really?

When I was a young woman, the mother of one of my dearest friends died on my friend’s birthday. My friend told me after the funeral that her birthday was now ruined forever. Her brother had said, at the luncheon after the funeral, that he would never be able to wish her a happy birthday again, because doing so would be disloyal to their mother’s memory. And my friend mourned, for the rest of the time of our close friendship, the loss not only of her mother, but of the birthday which her mother had given her. Her thoughts on her birthday centered on the fact that her mother died that day, rather than on the fact that her mother had given her life that day.

For years, other friends and I tried to get this woman to celebrate and enjoy her birthday, and she just couldn’t. I have always thought that she grieved the wrong thing, that because of her focus on “losing” her birthday, she never really got over the death of her mother.

I’ve long since learned, through experiencing my own losses, that losing someone from this life is not something we “get over.” It changes us forever, does death — and it’s how we view what it changes, and how it changes what it changes, that drives the way we deal with it.

It’s an oversimplification, I think, and even a denial of the human nature with which God graced us, to dismiss grief on the grounds that our loved one is in a better place (even though they are) or on the basis that our own eyes should be focused on our ultimate goal of getting to heaven (even though they should, and the only way anyone gets there is by dying).

Here’s why. God created us and placed us in the world he made because (a) he loves us and (b) he wants us to be happy. To think otherwise runs counter to what we know about God. We are meant, even called, to enjoy the beauty and pleasures of life as human children of God in the world he made for us.

And part of our life in this world, part of our happiness here, has to do with the other human beings with whom God has surrounded us. That we love them, and they love us, and we make each others’ lives better, is part of God’s plan. We’re supposed to live this way! And so it is natural that when one of these people we love is taken from us by death, we miss them. We wish we had them back. We are, perhaps, only partly comforted by the knowledge that they are now in heaven, which is the ultimate goal for us all.

The problem for us humans is that because we’re humans, we get very wrapped up in this world that God created and put us in. We slide into a mindset that this life is the ultimate goal, and that moving from this life into the next one is an undesirable outcome. We hate and resist death, in ourselves and others, because it takes away from this present life.

Now, it’s probably a bridge too far for many people to think about celebrating death because it’s an entry into eternal life (even though that’s really what God’s plan calls for). We give lip service to this idea when we tell ourselves and our friends and family members that Aunt Rhoda is in a better place, or that little Becky is not suffering any more. But we don’t really live as though this world, for all its beauty and for all the joy that human companionship brings, is our temporary place. We go just a little too far in enjoying what God made for us. We claim it as permanent, and that makes for a traumatic time when we find out that it isn’t.

I would have loved for my friend, all those long years ago, to be able to turn her birthday back into a celebration — to be thankful that God chose that day to welcome the woman who gave her life, into her own eternal life.

I would love for myself and for everyone I know and love to be focused on living this life to the fullest, because that’s what God made us for, but always with faith at the center and always with the hope and expectation that as much as we love this life and this world, as much as we cling to it, God still has something even greater in store for us afterward.

Yes, we will still mourn when those we love leave us for that promised life in eternity. We will still mourn because that’s how God made us. But perhaps, with just a hint of what else God made us for, we can also turn our mourning into dancing, because the joy doesn’t end when our life in time ends.

And oh, my! I can live with that.

My dearest Father God, today I ask for grace to live my life in ALL the ways you have planned for me, knowing that you love me and desire my happiness, and also knowing that my happiness lies only partly in this world, and will be full and complete in the eternal life you promised, the life that Jesus won back for us by his cross and resurrection. Amen.

Humility, and Sycamore Trees (Pandemic)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about humility. I ask for it in my prayers, and when I’m feeling particularly brave, I pray the Litany of Humility (https://ascensionpress.com/pages/litany-of-humility). My Father God has answered this prayer in interesting ways, and sometimes I have to remind myself with some firmness to express my gratitude.

I think I’ve written a little about humility before. Somewhere, in a homily or some reading, I learned that humility, or being humble, does not mean putting ourselves down, or even considering ourselves less good or less important than those around us.

Rather, it means being honest in our self-assessment — recognizing ourselves for our flaws and faults, and recognizing ourselves for our talents, our skills, and the ways that we shine. And I think it means something more, because these recognitions are worthless if they do not set us on a path that draws us closer to Jesus.

Yesterday, the gospel reading was Luke’s telling of the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector — a man of short stature who was so eager to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree to get above the crowd for a good look at him. (I used to have a sycamore tree in my back yard. It was huge. What a climb that must have been!)

For many years, when I read this story and heard homilies based on it, the focus was on Zacchaeus’ faith and his eagerness to know Jesus, or on his response to Jesus’ recognizing him and coming to his house. But when I read it yesterday, it spoke to me of humility.

You see, tax collectors in Jesus’ time probably weren’t known for their humility, and yet Zacchaeus shows himself to be the epitome of humility. He recognizes that he is short in stature. Now, he could go in a couple of directions with it. He could stay in the midst of the crowd, moping and berating himself about being short and how that’s going to keep him from seeing this Jesus who he very much wants to meet. He could even get mad about it. God, why did you make me so short? Now I can’t even get a glimpse of this Jesus who I think happens to be very important to me.

But Zacchaeus doesn’t take either of those paths. Instead, Zacchaeus not only recognizes his short stature, he actively embraces it. And he uses it to put himself in an ideal — if by some lights, laughable — position to see and perhaps encounter Jesus.

And oh, how well it turns out for him! He not only sees Jesus, but Jesus sees him, and seeks him out, builds a relationship with him. And it only gets better from there. Jesus decides to come to Zacchaeus’ house that day, and Zacchaeus is simply filled with the grace of that encounter to the point where it changes his entire life.

This kind of humility is a wonderful thing. I kept thinking and thinking about it, and then this morning at Mass, the homily built right into the concept. The priest, preaching on Revelation 4:1-11, emphasized God’s holiness and glory and infinite greatness, all as a prelude to reminding us that God, who is all of everything, loves us with an all-encompassing love — not because we are worthy of it, but because he made us, and we need his love.

That homily took me right back to the story of Zacchaeus. I realized that the story is telling us that Jesus loved Zacchaeus, not because he deserved it but because he was made by God (of whom Jesus is the creating Word), and because he needed it.

And there is the beauty of humility: Recognizing that we are beloved of God, not because we are worthy but rather, and blessedly, because we so desperately need it. And because we do, God finds us worthy, deems us worthy as his own creation. That kind of love is unfailing, all-encopassing, and not just life-changing, but soul-changing.

It seems to me that the essence of humility is recognizing ourselves for what we are, and using each realization as a way and a reason to seek out Jesus. When we do, he will surely find us.

And I can live with that.

Quarantined Anew, and Faith and Grace (Pandemic)

My family has been talking behind my back — about me! And they were understandably nervous when it came time to talk to me about what they were discussing. After all, I’ve been known to be a bit prickly, maybe a touch defensive, and sometimes lacking in patience. So when my daughter brought this up on Wednesday, I knew immediately that I needed to pay attention. She’s not given to drama, so when she said that this discussion had taken place and that we needed to talk it through, my ears were open. And so was my heart.

And it all had to do with the pandemic, and the current very frightening spike of new cases in our state and even our own city, and their concerns for my safety. I’d been overseeing online school for two little boys in our family, and it was now apparent that because of the number of people, known and unknown, that these boys were exposed to, it simply wasn’t safe any longer for me to continue having them at my house.

I could readily see the truth of this, and I was touched by everyone’s concern even as I began to battle an onslaught of other feelings. The first was guilt — what was their mom going to do? And it has taken some time for me to understand that there are some things that I can’t and shouldn’t feel obligated to fix. The second was relief. In a flash of clarity, I realized that the whole school/child care thing was not going very well for any of us. I was stressed out about it, I was beginning to be burnt out, and the little ones were not enjoying it very much. A grandparent/grandchild relationship just isn’t meant to have that much discipline and drudgery built into it, and as much as I hated to admit it, my age was a factor too.

I sat in my daughter’s kitchen and cried, and really talked about everything, and she saw to it that new arrangements were made for the boys. Over the next 2 days, we took extra precautions with masks, distancing, and sanitizing, and on Friday afternoon, I packed up all of their school materials and sent everything home with them (along with detailed instructions for how to get to everything online, which was entirely different for each of them).

What I wasn’t fully prepared for was the flood of emotions that kept washing over me. That’s a tired old metaphor, I know, but I can’t think of a better one. I was sad, and I couldn’t escape a sense of failure that I knew was misplaced, but persisted anyway. And at the same time, I found myself looking forward to having my days back to do my things. I realized that I had been missing my solitude. What was wrong with me?

The beauty of a relationship with Jesus is that you can lay all of those feelings and questions before him and ask him what you are supposed to make of them. And after a few rounds of tears and just a hint of self-loathing, that’s what I did. I brought this to Jesus with a spirit of gratitude. Sure, it was something along the lines of “Jesus, thank you for what you have done for me. I’m not sure exactly what it was or why I am so emotional about it, but thank you.”

And in the next moment a wondrous thought formed itself in my mind. I spend a fair amount of time asking God to make me and keep me humble, because my biggest failing and most frequent sin centers on pride and self-interest. And God had just  given me the most amazing opportunity to be humble. Because I wasn’t doing so well with the school business, and I kept clinging to it because it made me special to be doing it, and gosh darn it, I would keep making that sacrifice because only I could make it all work.

Clearly, I had my ego all wrapped up in a cloak and mask that looked like service. And it wasn’t working. So although the overarching issue in stopping it was safety, the lesson behind stopping was much more related to humility. And so once more what looked like a heavy cross turned out to be God’s way of blessing me.

There is more to this story, having to do with the need to hunker down and isolate myself much more than I’ve done since the beginning of this pandemic. Since way back in March, my daughter’s household and mine have pretty much behaved like one household. And with cases on the rise and no end in sight (a vaccine being months from general availability at best), we had to reassess the risks of our expanded bubble. My son-in-law is a doctor who may see as many as 45-50 patients a day. While he takes precautions, there is increased risk around my being exposed to him. My granddaughter attends preschool, and while the preschool itself has had no cases and is maintained separately from the K-8 school, the K-8 school has had a couple of cases. Again, increased risk. Then there was my oldest grandson, who is careful but again, is exposed to other people through classes and roommates.

So, my daughter said, we needed to rethink how we were approaching all this. My family wants me around for a lot more years, she said, and while it might be merely inconvenient for them to get a case of Covid, it could be a disaster for me given my history of pneumonia twice in the past 2 1/2 years, and given my age. So we made the decision: we’ll stay apart as much as possible; when we do see each other, we’ll use masks and we’ll keep the 6-foot social distance. I’ll stay home, have groceries delivered, and at least for now, do without hugs (that hurts).

It’s the right decision, for the right reasons. As I let it sink in, I fetl above all the depth of my family’s love and care. They helped me figure out all the decisions and actions that were needed and they helped me implement them. It is the right thing to do, and above all I feel both relieved and safe.

I still spent much of Thursday and a fair portion of Friday in tears. I’d be sitting here thinking how everything was going to work out and how this is all temporary, and then some part of my brain would holler “Pity party! Right this way!” and on would come the tears again. Someone called from our parish, checking up to see if members needed anything or had prayer intentions, and I burst into tears just over the kindness in that woman’s voice. This morning, I had a wave of sadness at the moment I would usually have noticed my grandson’s car over at my daughter’s house and would have headed over for our traditional Saturday morning breakfast.

But this is one year in my life; one season of missed holidays — and more important, of finding new and different ways to celebrate. We’re finding online games that we can all play together; we’re getting together on Zoom; we’re looking out for each other in different ways. And we’re going to be fine, so that when the pandemic is over and we begin to right the ship, we’ll be better at being a family and at being good humans than we ever were before.

So what I’m going to do in these coming weeks and months is stay home, enjoy the solitude that is my natural state anway, find new opportunities and ways to pray, stay in touch with people in the ways I like to do, and cry when I need to.

I’m going to make sure I exercise daily and eat right, because I’ve already found the Covid 15 everyone talks about. I’m going to find ways to serve my God and my people — family and others around me — that are, I hope, less pride-inducing than trying to take on too much and trying to do everything. I’ll knit, I’ll read, I’ll pray, I’ll write. I’m going to try to stay out of God’s way when he is trying to send grace and mercy my way. And I’m going to be grateful, every single day and night, for the lesson in humility that he has so graciously given me in this time of Covid.

I’m going to trust my Lord and Savior in all things.

I can live with that.

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