A Parish that Cries

“A parish that doesn’t cry has no future.”

I told this to my mom a few Sundays ago, apparently when I was in a more charitable mood than I was this morning.

This morning I couldn’t pray. There were thousands of wailing children at Mass this morning. Or at least it sounded that way. And they were seemingly all being tortured somehow. (For some reason, “crying it out” is a naughty phrase for young parents when it comes to bedtime or nap time. But it seems that isn’t the case at Mass.)

I came to blog about it. I know I’m not supposed to have an opinion about any of it, because I have no idea what it’s like to raise children. I have no idea what it’s like to have your child wailing uncontrollably in church. I have no idea about any of it. I’m a single girl that should never open her mouth (or her keyboard?) about something she knows nothing about.

And neither does Father. So he can’t say anything either, of course. Despite the fact that we couldn’t hear parts of his homily because of wailing children or the words of consecration were eclipsed by a scream or two, he can’t offer words of advice. (Such as, “I put a close-circuit television downstairs so you don’t have to miss Mass if your children are getting a little antsy…”) Someone will call the chancery and tell the Bishop that Father told them they weren’t welcome at his parish. Better yet, someone will accuse him of hating babies or being pro-choice.

But I decided I was tired of feeling like a second-class citizen just because I don’t have children. So I came to blog and vent.

But then I opened my computer up to this quote from John Paul I.  I’m using it in a talk I’m giving this week.

“Love in little things. Often this is the only kind possible. I never had the chance to jump into a river to save a drowning man; I have been very often asked to lend something, to write letters, to give simple and easy instructions. I have never met a mad dog; instead I have met some irritating flies and mosquitoes. I have never had persecutors beat me but many people disturb me with noises in the street, with the volume of the television turned up too high or unfortunately with making noise in drinking soup. To help, however, one can not take it amiss, to be understanding; to remain calm and smiling (as much as possible) in such occasions is to love one’s neighbour without rhetoric in a practical way” John Paul I

And then I realized I had failed. I had the opportunity this morning to remain smiling, despite the screams and the wails and the fact I couldn’t hear half of the Eucharistic prayer. But I let it distract me. I let it get under my skin.

I still have a lot of work to do in the holiness department. And it’s not about heroic bloody martyrdom. The heroism is a lot smaller… and a lot harder.

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An open-letter to the Catholic School educators of my past

Thank you. Thank you for the ups and the downs, for the sacrifices to your bank account, for putting up with us and for letting us be kids. Thank you for teaching us to work in community, to listen to someone other than our parents, and for witnessing in small ways to the Christian life. Thank you for what you do.

This morning I went to the All Schools’ Mass with the Bishop for Catholic Schools Week. Since we have so many Catholic schools in the diocese, a few students are chosen from each grade to represent their school and accompany their principal and pastors to the Mass.

After Communion, the choir (made up of kids from the three high schools) were singing a beautiful meditation, and I had to struggle to keep back the tears.  Back came the memories of my days in high school choir.  Back came the memories of “Sharing Day,” the Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week when all our schools would gather together for Mass, too.  Back came memories from 21 years of Catholic education – from preschool to graduate school.

I thought of the teachers, the principals, the friends, the moms and dads of friends, the field trips, the school plays, the All School Masses, the recesses, the classes, the times that stretched me and the times that gave me joy.

You know what?  It wasn’t perfect. I had some not-so-great teachers, I had some not-so-great classmates.  There were even days I cried knowing I’d have to go back to school the next day. It was no walk in the park, those years of Catholic high school.  Even elementary and middle school had its ups and downs.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure, I would have liked it to be more Catholic at times. Yes, I would have asked that there was less bullying. I could have had more rigorous education at times.  It wasn’t perfect by any means.  If I was going to write the story of my years of school, there are definite experiences I would have spared myself from, and chapters I would have written differently.

But I survived. And I am who I am today because of the ups and the downs, the joys and the crosses, the good times and the bad.  I’ll be eternally grateful to my parents, who navigated those seas – rocky at times, calm at times – and helped me keep my Faith. There are many of my classmates who have not fared so well.

My years in Catholic schools are like any experience in life. You take the good and celebrate it, and you take the bad and you grow from it.  I know that everyone has their own decision to make for their own families, but I will forever be grateful that my parents didn’t listen to me in sixth grade when I begged to be homeschooled.  I needed those years of growth.  I needed those friends.  Who knows, maybe I needed to be a witness to someone, somewhere.

Perhaps this sounds like a rather back-handed compliment to my Catholic education.  It’s not intended that way.  I am honestly grateful for the memories and the experiences those years in the Lafayette Catholic School system gave me. The growth hasn’t stopped – I am still learning, still figuring out this whole life thing. I suppose the continued growth is why I can look back at those years and be grateful – even for the tough times.

I realized with some horror, as I looked around at the kids at Mass, that they thought I was a grownup. I’m as old as some of their teachers – perhaps even some of their parents! And as I looked at them – from the little bitty kindergartners to the seniors in high school– I wanted to tell them it was all worth it.  Thank your teachers. Thank your principals. Thank your parents.  It’s all going to be just fine.

 

Gaudete!

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to just blog for fun, and this day just screamed out for it.

Happy Gaudete!  What a great, great day.  I’ve always loved Gaudete Sunday, and this year it seems especially joyful.  For starters, I had a lovely weekend with family, enjoying Nashville through food, history, drink, and more food.  And drink.  I went to sleep last night almost feeling like it was already my birthday.  Honestly, no one deserves this much fun for their birthday after they enter their third decade.

This morning I had poticia and a leftover pink cupcake for breakfast to celebrate Gaudete Sunday.  Poticia is a Slovenian nut bread that my grandma always made for Christmas- now my mom and aunts make it, and my aunt gave me some early – so I saved it to eat on Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice!  I lit my advent wreath and read my morning spiritual reading, and I honestly thought for a brief moment that it was already my birthday.  It’s good to be loved.

Even Sammy, the weekend doorman, gave me homemade treats this morning. Honestly, I do not deserve this much love.

Mass was absolutely beautiful, with all the best Advent songs AND the OPENING OF THE HOLY DOOR with the Bishop sitting in choir and an incredible homily from Father Baker that actually ended with a hilarious reference to L.A. (Lower Alabama) and the command to shout “Happy Jubilee!” in the streets of Nashville.  Honestly.  It’s just too much. I was dying of joy.

Then it was the realization during Communion that:

1) I was born during an extraordinary Jubilee.

2) This is an extraordinary Jubilee, and it basically opened for me this morning, on my favorite Sunday of the year, the day before my birthday

3) In 11 days, I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of my first Marian consecration. 20 years. Whew.

Basically, people, this is a big year for me. I can feel it. Lots of graces.  God has big plans.  Here we go!

Almost half the church was wearing pink this morning. You could feel the joy.  Then a bright pink taxi cab drove by while we were standing outside of church and Father Baker shouted, “That taxi cab!  Come here!  We need you! It’s a Gaudete taxi cab!”  I mean, it was like everyone was intoxicated on Advent Joy.

It was sad to say goodbye to the family after brunch, especially since we have had such an incredibly fun time (lots of laughter!), but it was tempered by the fact that I would see them all in ten days!  I began listening to Advent/Christmas music on the way home (for the first time this year- it pays to wait, I’m telling you) and I could just feel it.  He is coming.  He is near.

Gaudete, everyone!  Go rejoice today!  He is near!

 

Being known

Every Tuesday morning, after my early Adoration hour, I go to Bruegger’s Bagels on the way to work. I’ll bop in there on another day of the week here or there, but it’s definitely part of my Tuesday morning routine.

Shawn is behind the bagel counter, ready to make my plain bagel with egg, cheddar cheese, and tomato (“after it comes out of the oven, please.”)  If it’s not Shawn, I know whomever is back there will not make it properly, and I often won’t even let them try.  I’ll just get cream cheese instead.  Thankfully on Tuesdays it’s almost always Shawn. Then I’ll go to the cash register and be greeted by Sayonara with the greatest “good morning” a Tuesday morning has ever seen.

It’s a routine, and I love it.  Shawn doesn’t even ask me anymore.  One day there was another guy behind the counter with him, and when he asked me what I wanted, Shawn simply said, “I got it,” and pulled a plain bagel out of the basket and started cutting it.

This morning I was thinking how happy this makes me, and at first I just chalked it up to the idea of routine and ritual (which apparently people are finally admitting makes our life better).

But then I decided it’s more than that.

We want to be known.

It’s the human desire to be encountered (which I wrote a bit about here).  It’s the feeling of being encountered, recognized, and known.  We want to feel important — not in a prideful way, not in a famous way, but just important to someone, somehow.

How many people survived prison camps or other terrible situations hanging on to the fact that someone was out there waiting for them?

We want to be known.

Shawn and Sayonara brighten every Tuesday morning because they acknowledge that I exist and that I’m a part of their routines as much as they are a part of mine.  I’d like to think I brighten their days, too.  Addressing them by name, asking them how they are, treating them as if they matter to me – which they do.

What if every day, we tried to seek out at least one other person and brought them God’s love by simply showing them they’re known? Maybe it’s just a matter of making eye contact with a stranger and telling them hello. So often I walk past people as if they’re not there. Maybe it’s taking the time to ask how someone is doing or listen to a coworker’s story – even if I’ve heard it before.  Maybe it’s a gesture of appreciation to someone whose work usually goes unnoticed, or a compliment to someone who is usually forgotten.  It doesn’t have to be grand, it just has to be intentional.

There’s a power in being known.

Not coincidence, but grace

This blog post from Bishop-Elect Barron is excellent (shocking, I know), and got me thinking about all the threads in our lives that are woven together in ways we can’t see. Our decisions can affect people generations later.  Events in our lives can put us in the path of others or connect us to other people or events later.  What some people would call coincidence, we would call God’s Providence.

Even with things on a less dramatic level as Father Barron’s connect-the-dots, I like to think of the quirky connections in our lives that just show God’s sense of humor.  Like when I’m walking through Target and think of being in that same Target over 15 years ago with my sister (pre-convent), never dreaming that some day I would live in this city and shop at that Target.  But God knew.  And I like to think of Him laughing to Himself, thinking, “If she only knew…”

On one level, thinking about these things should give us confidence and peace of mind, knowing that He sees the end of it all.  Even though we can’t see the picture on the tapestry that all these crazy strings and knots are making, He can.  And as out of control as it all seems sometimes, He’s always in control.

On the other level, it can just make us smile and laugh.  For example…

Today is my friend’s due date.  (It’s not likely the day her baby is actually going to be born, seeing that she’s at work and feeling great.  But still, it’s her due date.)  Many years ago, when I was visiting Rome for John Paul II’s feast day, I prayed in the Church of Sant’Agostino for this friend.  You see, there’s a famous statue in the church, Madonna del Parto, where Roman women go to pray for pregnancies.  When their prayers are answered, they put pink and blue ribbons near the statue (or pillows or baby booties or pictures…) to thank Our Lady for her intercession.  (You can see a picture of it in this post.)

Well, my friend and her husband announced several months later that they were expecting!  She ended up giving birth to a wonderful little boy on the feast of John Henry Newman, which also happened to be their year anniversary of coming into full communion with the Church.

Last December found me back in Rome, and I was armed with several intentions for Madonna del Parto, both intercession and thanksgiving.  Just like 2011, I prayed for Liza and Paul.

Did I mention that Liza took the name Augustine when she came into the Church?  And did I mention that she had recently also been praying to Augustine’s mom, St. Monica?  And did I mention that Monica just happens to be buried in the same church where the Madonna del Parto can be found?

….And did I mention that today… her DUE DATE… is the feast of St. Monica?

And up in heaven, God laughed.  He’s got this.

St. Monica, pray for us!
Madonna del Parto, pray for us!

The Crisis in the Single Life

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for awhile now, but haven’t had the energy to really collect coherent thoughts on the subject.  The SCOTUS decision made me come back to it.  I figure I’ll ramble here, maybe get some feedback, and then post my coherent and articulate thoughts on joanmwatson or at Integrated Catholic Life.  So if you’re reading this, know that you’re my guinea pigs well-loved friends with whom I can be vulnerable and open.

Over the past ten or twenty years in the Church, we’ve heard talk about crises in the priesthood and crises in marriage.  This post isn’t going to contradict those ideas. We have been bombarded by false images of those vocations, and a lack of understanding of those vocations have led to severe problems.

But I think we’ve neglected to think about the crisis in the single life. Sure, a false understanding of marriage has led to the Supreme Court decision. Absolutely. But so has a false understanding of the single life. And in the Church we can even perpetuate it with a false emphasis on vocation.

Let me ‘splain.

I was struck when the French bishops came out this spring encouraging the synod on the family not to forget singles. The article mentioned that theologians “studying the issue said the Church should not ‘absolutise states of life’ and idealise marriage.”  While I hate vague references to no one (“theologians” is like saying “they” and never talking about who “they” might be…), it got me thinking about the idea of “absolutizing” states of life.

I think I’ve said here before – I don’t think the non-vowed single life is one of “VOCATIONS” of the Church, like marriage, consecrated life, and priesthood are. (the capitalization here and what follows is all completely intentional. I want you to feel yelled at. haha)  I think we actually do damage to those of us living this non-vowed single life by acting like it is.  It’s sometimes thrown into petitions and whatnot, probably somewhat out of pity and/or fear of neglecting someone. But I don’t know if God made me to live alone. I don’t think He did.  If I thought He did, I would take vows as a consecrated virgin.  And then I wouldn’t be alone because I would be in a vowed relationship with Him.

I don’t think He created me to be alone, but here I am. And here are hundreds of thousands of young men and women.  Now, if you find yourself in this spot, don’t immediately assume your Aunt Betty or your newly-engaged-best-friend are correct in asserting that you’re in this position because you’re too picky or because you don’t get out enough.  (you’ve heard that, I know- we all have.)

It might be a consequence of something…. such as our sexed-crazed culture that has destroyed babies, destroyed morals, destroyed an understanding of sacrifice and love, and destroyed the physical, spiritual, and emotional lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

And as a result, there are a many of us who find ourselves single.  Is this our “VOCATION!!!”?  I don’t think so.  Will all of us get married someday?  I don’t think so.  And you know what?  That’s okay. Because our ultimate vocation is holiness.  I think that’s what the “theologians” might be getting at when they talked about “absolutizing” vocation. We’ve begun focusing so much on “PRAYING FOR YOUR VOCATION!” and “FIND YOUR VOCATION!!!”  that we’ve neglected to talk about the vocation we don’t have to go searching for, we don’t have to wait for, we don’t have to wonder about… because it’s right in front of us, in the every day grind of life, in our friends and family … holiness.  Ulitmately, all those vocations just serve one purpose: holiness.  So rather than getting your panties in a wad because you haven’t “FOUND YOUR VOCATION!”, why don’t we all just concentrate on being holy?  If God brings a spouse to you during that time, or proposes to you in the form of an attraction to priesthood or consecrated life, great.

But if not, you’re not a horrible person.  You’re not a failure. Will life be hard because you’ll feel alone sometimes?  Sure.  Will holiness be difficult because you won’t have the grace of a sacrament or the grace of vows?  You betcha.  But it’s okay.  There are crosses in every vocation.  Yours are just easier for you to see.

“Absolutizing” the vocations has repercussions when we look at our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction.  How do we tell people struggling with these attractions that holiness is possible if we’re so busy absolutizing vocation? “You should go find your vocation!! … oh, but you can’t get married to the one you want to marry.  Um, no, you can’t become a priest.”  Hm.  And so what do we do?  We try to make the single life a vocation.  But how can it be a vocation if it 1) might not be permanent and 2) it’s not vowed to another (either God or a spouse)?

Why don’t we stop trying to make it a “vocation” and instead accept (and work through) the uniqueness of the transitional single life… that might not be transitional?  Why don’t we teach what chastity actually is? I know chastity has to be lived in every vocation, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist (or a psychologist) to know that it is particularly difficult for those living the transitional single life.  Sorry, married friends, I know you have your unique struggles, but don’t try to tell me our struggles with chastity are equal, haha.  If we are going to preach this Gospel of chastity to those struggling with same-sex attraction, it would behoove us to understand the nature of the transitional single life (that might not be transitional).

Until we try to understand the nature of this unique stage (that might not be a stage) of life, we aren’t going to be able to preach to our society that is so in need of healing.  I’m not just talking about those of us who are trying to live chaste single lives in this sexed-crazed world, or those who struggling with same-sex attraction.  What about those people who are divorced but can’t remarry because their first marriage was valid?

A few of my transitional-single-life-that-might-not-be-so-transitional friends and I were discussing some of these things recently.  We agreed that we’re sick of people telling us to go find our vocation, as if we never think about it (when we’re reminded of it in some way every.single.day.)  We agreed we are sick of people praying for “an increase of vocations to the single life.”  STOP IT.  Really. Just stop.  No one deserves your prayers for that. Stop.  And we’re sick of people telling us that we are picky, we need to get out more, or acting like we don’t understand life because we haven’t “found our vocations.”

I read an article once that said, “Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage.  it’s an entirely different sport– and if you haven’t played it, you haven’t mastered it.” Yes. A million times yes.  At risk of someone thinking I sound snarky, I’m going to say that I’m tired of married people thinking they know what being single is like simply because they were single before they got married (by age 25) or because they’re alone some evenings when their spouse is at work.

It’s time for us to start looking at this unique state of life.  Not by adding it into the petitions (again… please… no…) or by throwing more “singles events” at the parish (aka mixers) or by acting like it’s one of the permanent vocations, but by really trying to undertand how this transitional-maybe-not-so-transitional way of life fits into the parish family and society as a whole.  It’s time to listen and figure out what we have to share with a world in so much need of healing.

Wednesday morning thoughts

I need to be finishing up a talk I’m giving this weekend, but I’m having trouble hunkering down and concentrating, so I thought writing here would give me some momentum.

I’m in my new office now. A little more than half of us from the old building are now in the new building, and everyone is at various stages of settling in.  Phones and internet are still in limbo for some people, so I’m pretty lucky that I have both.  Nothing is hung up on my walls yet, but all of my furniture is in place and I’m completely unpacked.  I suppose that’s one of the perks of only being on the job for 8 months – I didn’t really have that much to pack and unpack.

The previous occupants of the building left a lot behind, so a few of us spent a few hours wandering around and seeing what goodies could be claimed.  The leftover office furniture has been parcelled out to various rooms, so I went to the “chair room” yesterday to look for a new desk chair.  I also had laid claim to a rocking chair that we found in one of the nursery classrooms, but I returned it once I realized I wouldn’t be able to sit and read in it for long amounts of time.

My commute hasn’t been terrible, mostly because I’m going the opposite direction from pretty much the entire rest of the city.  So while I’m going to be filling up the gas tank a lot more often, I’m still making it to work under 30 minutes. We’ll see if that changes after school starts.  I do feel a little isolated out here – no more meeting friends for lunch or dashing over to Aquinas College for Mass – but I suppose I’ll get used to that.  Jesus hasn’t moved to the new building yet, and I’m ready for that to happen too – I’ve worked with Jesus in the building for the last seven years, and you just get used to being able to pop in to say hello.

I guess that’s all for now.  Maybe I’ll post pictures eventually – my favorite room so far is the big auditorium that seats 800 (but doesn’t have built-in seats, so we can clear it out and set up tables for dinners, etc) and I’m antsy to have a class in there.  I guess I shouldn’t expect to fill it the first time I have an evening bible study out here, though, huh?  Start small…