Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Catching a glimpse...

This morning, I mowed my parent's lawn. It's something I hadn't done since high school (or possibly during breaks in college, so it's been a while), and a chore I regularly complained about ever since my dad had me start doing it at 12. I couldn't tell you how many times I mowed it growing up. They have a quarter acre, so it's a big job, and my parents (still) don't have a riding mower. Now that my brothers and I are all out of the house, my dad usually mows it, but lately he hasn't been able due to illness, and my mom can't either.

As I carved out squares of shorter grass with the mower, I discovered that I didn't mind the chore it at all. And I realized something else: I have often wondered why none of my job applications for better positions in different states have yet to bear fruit. I often tell myself that God must have me still here for a reason, I just don't know what that reason was. But today I got a small answer. I still live where I do so that I'm near enough to drive up to my parent's place and help them with things they can't do anymore. They kept thanking me for doing the job, when it was such a little thing, really. God knew they would need the help, and that just the simple act of my being there would offer them comfort.

Last week was rough. The bombing at the Boston Marathon, and the aftermath that filled a city - a nation -  with fear and sadness; fear of what might be next, sadness for those lost and injured. Then came the plant explosion in Texas, more lives lost, more people's lives turned upside down.

Sometimes we wonder where God is in situations like that, and why he allows bad things to happen. I don't necessarily have the answer to that last one, but I know God was in all the people, first responders and bystanders who ran to help, not even thinking about themselves or intending to act heroically, but just wanting to render aid. It was in the country united in prayer to lift up those affected in both of those tragedies, showing love and support however they could.

My point is this: God knows what he's doing, even when things seem chaotic or unsure. He sees the big picture, while we don't, but every now and again, we catch a glimpse.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Distracted prayer

I don't know about you, but my prayer is rarely as focused as it needs to be. It became especially obvious as I sat in Adoration this morning and my mind couldn't stay still. I'd missed daily mass, so I read the readings for the day, then started a rosary. "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is..." not the only thing on my brain. My thoughts ran the gamut, even as I prayed my way through the decades, even as I gazed at Jesus in the monstrance. Here, roughly in the order they came to me, is a small sampling of an hour's worth of thoughts:

 "Oh, that's an interesting jacket that woman's wearing. Four decades to go. The rosary seems to go so much faster when I pray it in the car in the morning. Is it because I'm moving and there's lots going on around me? Thank you, Lord, for protecting Amanda's daughter Grace after she took a 12-foot tumble out of their barn's hay loft. Thank you for allowing my brother to arrive at his Middle-Eastern deployment location safely. Will my friend Marie and her husband who are soon moving back to the area from their overseas deployment have any single male friends they might be able to set me up with? Should I sign up for a Catholic online dating site again? Or is that urge to troll through profiles of single men a temptation to not trust God with it? Be patient, be patient, be patient, please help me be patient. ... I love my rosary, how it's more than 100 year's old, and how the beads no longer stay in one place, having slipped their moorings through years of prayer. Maybe one day I'll wrap it around the stem of a wedding bouquet. It belonged to Miz Bertolotti, my great-grandmother who I never knew but from whom I inherited my awesomely dark under-eye circles. Yay, genetics! But we'll never really know where she got them, since her parents died and she and her siblings were adopted after the 1900 hurricane and Galveston flood. ... I'm glad my insomnia didn't keep me up last night, and I feel well-rested. I hope I can get up off my tail and make it back to the gym today, my jeans are tight. I need to wash some clothes, and make sure I get to the dentist on time (I could have done without my phone going off at 3:30 this morning with a reminder of the appointment, though), and the store, too, since I'm out of lunch meat and tomatoes and why am I suddenly craving orange juice? Please let the rental application for the new place be accepted if it's God's will. ... What is God's will for me to write for GoodGirls today? About yesterday's gospel and how the 153 fish represent the diverse population of the Church, and how the net, which didn't tear despite the weight of the fish, is the Church itself? Or about God's love for us, or Peter's love for Jesus? Or possibly about how I can't imagine living my life without this faith, this beautiful Church and it's sacraments. Thank you, Jesus, for giving me the opportunity to make it to confession Saturday! How DO people live without you, when life gets crazy or bad things happen? ...mmm, I love the smell of incense. One day I need to learn the "Tantum Ergo" by heart..."

As Adoration wound to a close, I realized how little I'd focused. I'd finished my rosary, certainly, and thanked God for the time spent with him, but oh, how I wish I could have just sat still and made my mind a blank page, receptive to what the Lord wanted to tell me! But then, after reposing the Blessed Sacrament, the deacon turned to the small group in the church and thanked us for coming. "God loves you so much, but he loves you even more because you chose to spend time with him today." That eased my mind a bit.

It also was reassuring, once I got home and did a little research, to find that some of the saints struggled with distractions, too. "Even very devout servants of God complain about wanderings and instability of the mind," St. Ignatius of Loyola once said. Among them are St. Gemma Galgani (we celebrated her feast day last week), who once asked God to be forgiving of the wanderings of her mind in prayer: "Oh God... my God! ... Do not be offended if in the morning I come as I am!"

Also, St. Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the Church, struggled with distractions. In "The Story of a Soul," she writes: "...the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don't succeed in fixing my mind on them. For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her."

So while I will work to be better at focusing on my prayer when distractions arise, it seems I'm at least in good company.

Have a blessed week!

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Annunciation

Can you imagine being 14 or 15, and suddenly having an angel appear before you? Not only that, but then the angel says you're going to have a baby. And not just any baby -- the savior of the world.

I don't know about you, but I'd freak out.

On a silent women's retreat several years ago with the Sisters of Life, one of the nuns guided us in a reflection. She asked us to read the gospel passage for the day and imagine ourselves in the place of one of the people of the story. Who were we? A towns person, or one of the disciples? How did we imagine the scene? Was it hot, for instance? How did the actions of Jesus make us feel? Why?

So, I think back to when I was 15. Putting aside a lack of worthiness, how would I feel if the Annunciation had happened to me? When you're a teenager, everything -- even the littlest of things -- is dramatic, so I can't imagine being calm. Angels have no earthly bodies, so I'm a little hard-pressed to imagine how Gabriel would appear, too. He's always depicted in human form, but would that really have been the case? Perhaps Mary was afraid, but was calmed when the angel told her not to give in to fear. Still, were I to suddenly find my virginal self pregnant, I'd be fearful and so confused... about how it happened, and what my parents would think.

Yet in today's gospel reading for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, Mary seems so calm. St. Luke does tell us that Mary was "greatly troubled" at the angel Gabriel's greeting, but other than that, she hardly seems astonished to see a celestial being standing in her bedroom. And she's curious, sure, about how she'll soon be with child, as she has "no relations with a  man. As the gospel makes no mention of her parents, I suppose Sts. Anne and Joachim are away from home. I feel like it would be morning, the start of both the day, and of God doing something completely new.

And Mary said yes. Plans were made, she was betrothed to St. Joseph already, yet she trusted in God's will for her. Born without sin, she had been made ready even before this moment.  She thrilled at the news that her cousin, Elizabeth, was also with child. Could I have done the same? I like to think that I trust in God completely, but it is so hard sometimes, and I know I don't always. Sometimes I let fears get the better of me, and panic. Mary just said yes.

Blessed Mother, pray for us!