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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Catholic Out Loud - in the Stillness of the Night

I have just caught up on my work for the evening and so can now catch up on my writing.

"Being a Catholic is more than going to Mass on Sunday and never missing a Holy Day of Obligation."

How many of us have heard that phrase, or a variation of that phrase, and immediately been struck with feelings of good, old-fashioned Catholic guilt? We knew right away that the pronouncement was aimed at us. We bowed our heads in shame, knowing that we were not the ones teaching CCD or on the Environmental Committee or taking Our Lord to the home bound. Instead, we were the quiet Catholics...suiting up and showing up, praying on the way to work or while doing the laundry, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in our own homes rather than working down at the shelter five nights a week, and somehow we felt preyed upon when we heard that phrase coming from our parish Father.

Of course that is a big part of our liturgical life and not to be downplayed. And I know for a FACT that no faithful priest ever uttered those words from an ambo and meant them to sting everyone who heard them.

So do not misunderstand me - I have been through periods of my life when the best outward sign I could be was the Catholic who, no matter what, showed up when she is required to show up. Because I am a shift worker, often it is only God and my confessor who know what my prayer life looks like, what Mass I attend, and how I struggled to live my faith in every way - and sometimes it hurts knowing that no one would ever notice my efforts but God Himself. No one will ever point at me and say, "Isn't she wonderful? She prays the Rosary every day", because no one sees me close the door to my office at 0300 when I pray it. And while I know that no one HAS to see it, gee it would be nice to be one of those ladies everyone at Church speaks of with such awe and reverence - the ones EVERYBODY knows is at daily Mass, praying the Rosary in the plaza every Thursday at 3pm and volunteering to be the Sacristan.

How do we stop the whiny "me me me" when essentially, what we really feel, is loneliness and lack of fellowship because the life we currently live keeps us from being in the center of the action..so to speak.

How do we cope, in a practical way, with the suffering caused by being alone?

Let's offer it up - of course! - but could someone help me figure out how?

About ten years ago, sitting in Mass, I heard my beloved parish priest say, "Are you really doing all you can do or are you just doing the bare minimum, hoping to get by?". And right away, my feathers got ruffled...I was sure he was talking to me and it hurt my feelings. I was working full time, going to school full time and taking care of an elderly parent. I was trying so hard to be a good Catholic, but I was tired...plain old worn out and exhausted, so it didn't take much to hurt my feelings and make me cry. I am also a widow woman - single and without children, sitting in a pew amidst what felt like four thousand men and women with fifteen kids a piece.

All I have is a dog and two cats - and one of the cats doesn't even like me much.

So, what should I do? I did not want to drown in self pity, but I knew I had to find a way to turn around my attitude or there was going to be something much worse than a resentful, sullen Catholic sitting in a pew...there was going to be one less Catholic in the pew. Period.

So I asked a friend outside our Faith Tradition what she would do with this growing resentment and she pointed me in the direction of self-examination.

In other words, whenever I heard a phrase or suggestion that caused a little sting of uncomfortableness, my reaction would be, "Hmmmm...could that be me?".

Instead of doing my best Deniro in Taxi Driver impression, I could ask, in the quiet of my own interior castle, "Am I truly doing all that I can do to show Him how much I love Him? Can I sacrifice a little more?".

As a result of turning my self-centeredness into self-examination, I have found ways in which to increase my ability to be more than I initially thought possible. I have found time for extra prayer, the space for a little more service and - surprisingly - the ability to say, "No, not right now," without regret.

I have also been granted the grace to actually hear and see other people. I no longer look only at what they have - today I see who they ARE, which allows me to recognize their struggles and hardships and the sacrifices they are making to do what they are doing...one day at a time.

More importantly, I have stopped being afraid of feeling bad. I accept the fact that I may sometimes experience loneliness and abandonment and outright fear that somehow The Body of Christ has cut me off and discarded me. Today, however, through the grace of God, I have learned to stop myself and purposefully thank GOD for those feelings.

Why?

Because today I have grown up enough to recognize the gift feeling bad can be - for only by feeling bad am I united with Christ crucified, allowed in a tiny way to feel what He felt on His way to Calvary.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said friend of mine who complained about her life, "How God must love you to give you a share of His suffering".

Now, my friend's first thought was, "Swell...please love that guy over there for awhile, would you Jesus?". And I can understand her reaction - but the reality of being a Catholic is knowing that I have the opportunity to share Christ's Passion, to suffer so that others don't have to, and to be close to Him in ways no one who does not recognize Him as God can be close to their Creator.

As a Catholic, I know that MY SAVIOR knows exactly what it is like to feel like me because He took on a Human Nature...I do not have to wonder if He knows what it is like to be lonely or feel abandoned...for not only does He know that wound, He heals it.

So, now that I am back on graveyard shift, I can take comfort in being a Catholic Our Loud again...even though most people aren't hearing me, most people aren't seeing me....

He does....and by golly that is enough for me.

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