On Sunday Father Matt began his homily by holding up a GPS. Held it in his right hand while his left clutched the book of the Gospels. He began by asking the children what the GPS was, what it’s used for. He pointed out that it can only get us where we want to go if we first know where our destination is. As Christians, what is our destination? Heaven. And what is the GPS that will get us there? Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are our GPS.
Then he shifted to talking about taking the young people to the March for Life in DC last weekend. He says the refrain on the bus was: We’re on a Pilgrimage, not a Vacation and when you’re on a pilgrimage, you never complain about anything. And he talked about all the things they had to offer up. The bus broke down, the porta potties were clogged, the food was late. All the hazards of travel in a large group.
I liked that he didn’t just leave it there. He pulled the focus back a bit: Life is a pilgrimage, not a vacation. We are all on a journey toward heaven. This is not our destination…. And on a pilgrimage you never complain about anything.
It reminded me yet again of this, words from a friend that have become a touchstone for me, a channel of grace. I return to again and again:
When I told my father confessor about this pregnancy, one of the first words of counsel offered to me was a stern Don�t complain. I must admit that I thought his initial reaction a bit strange. Being given the gift of a new life, how could I possibly complain? Having once again entrusted me to cooperate with Him in bringing a new life into the Church, how could I sink into self-pity?
It seems to me that mothers don�t accurately remember the aches and pains of childbearing. Growing up I thought it rather odd that my grandmother remembered my mother�s childhood as a picture perfect scene. I instinctively knew that her memory was a result of revisionist history; but now as a mother, I understand the sincerity and grace that formed her memory. The difficult asceticism of motherhood is so laden with joy that the labor and struggles are quickly overshadowed by the blessing. At the same time, nothing robs us of the blessing more quickly than the habit of complaining.
In just a few short weeks after that initial conversation, intense and debilitating first trimester nausea set in. Don�t complain. What seemed like unnecessary counsel just a few weeks before became the obedience of a great struggle.
We’re on a pilgrimage not a vacation. Don’t complain.
Earlier on Sunday morning I’d sat at the dining room table reading the day’s Mass readings over breakfast. Reading them aloud not only for myself but for the girls. Perhaps hearing them once and then again will help them catch a little more. As I read, I suddenly thought: This is humility Sunday.
from the prophet Zephaniah:
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth,
who have observed his law;
seek justice, seek humility;
perhaps you may be sheltered
on the day of the LORD�s anger.
from the apostle Paul:
Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
from the Gospel of Matthew:
�Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To be little, humble. To abstain from complaining. To realize that everything depends on God, not on me. On His power, not mine. The hard work of accepting the blessings. The hard blessings. The blessings He wants us to find in the hardships.
And then again in the quiet after communion. I have approached and received, my mouth open like a baby bird and I am fed. My hands clutched by two small hands as I approach. The moment of communion, which is always, always also the moment of distraction: Don’t forget to open my mouth wide enough, to stick my tongue out far enough. To say the word: Amen. Try to disengage my hand from a clinging hand to cross myself. Try to gather small hands so distracted girls don’t stay behind when I turn. Always one distraction or another. And then I sink to my knees and gather my thoughts again. To think of communion, presence, eucharist. Try to reflect on what just happened, the event I missed and yet didn’t miss. He comes even when I am distracted. In the moment of my distraction there is still grace. Give thanks.
Soul of Christ, Sanctify me. Body of Christ, Save me….
And then in the silence a Word. Suddenly I know what to ask, what bread it is I need. The proper grace to ask for. Not for patience. Not for peace. No, it’s strange I’ve never thought to ask for it before: gentleness. Lord, make me gentle.
Where did that come from? As if I really have to ask. A gift for today. He wants to grant it; I have only to ask for it. Give me gentleness. Teach me the little way not of keeping my patience or of maintaining my inner peace; but of being gentle even in the face of my impatience, in the face of the storm.
Suddenly I see that the storms will come and I will lose my patience. That isn’t going to magically go away. But it is not the inner storm I must fear right now so much as the outer storm that follows. May I find a way of being gentle even as the storm rages.
Loud and Clear
And then as if in affirmation of that word received in the quiet of communion, Monday afternoon this arrives in the Office of Readings for the feast of St John Bosco:
First of all, if we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfil their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always laboured lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal. And the whole Salesian society has done this with me.
My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them.
I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he showed to his new converts. They often reduced him to tears and entreaties when he found them lacking docility and even opposing his loving efforts.
See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or wilfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger.
Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.
This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalised, and still others to hope for God�s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.
They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.
There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.
In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty.
St John Bosco, help me to learn your wisdom and restraint. Help me to follow your example of service, of kindness, of gentleness with the souls God has placed in my care.
Oh and speaking of the Beatitudes, Dorian has a lovely metaphor about floors and ceilings that I feel like I should be able to work in here, but my brain won’t quite stretch that far.
And now I feel like I should have some sort of nifty pulling it all together kind of conclusion. But I don’t have one. So there.