Always There

Eucharist, Body Of Christ, Church, Mass, Religion

I made it to daily Mass today! It’s been a while. Actually, I was almost late because of checking Facebook. I feel like that should be an illustration of original sin in a catechism or something.

Anyway, I’m now living down the street from a church with a 9 am daily Mass, and my sister watches the baby for me in the mornings, but this is still the first time I’ve actually gone. It struck me on the way that every morning, if I remember about Mass and wake up in time, I have a little debate in my head: am I awake enough to go? Am I too tired to walk there? Can I hold off on breakfast until afterwards, or am I too hungry? Or should I just have breakfast and skip Communion, or is there not much point to that?

But guess what? the priest doesn’t have a debate. He’s there every morning, whether anyone shows up or not. He’s there, every day, just in case someone decides they need him. He’s there every week, in case you remember to go to confession. He’s a phone call away. A priest I know used to be there for every knock on the door in the middle of the night, until his fellow pastor made him stop out of fear for his safety.

We’re so lucky to have the luxury of a priest who’s always available! God allows us to be lazy and forgetful and disorganized; He lets us decide when we can fit Him into our schedule; but He’s there waiting for us whenever we manage to come.

Make your own happiness

There were a lot of inspiring plaques in the behavioral health wing at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital, most of them the usual vague “live, laugh, love” type of thing. But one of them really spoke to me. It was actually in the scheduling office, and it said “the time to be happy is now.”

The first part that struck me was the “now.” I often get stuck in the trap of depending on the future and my specific plans for it: when we get a house, then I’ll be happy. When the kids are older, then I’ll be happy. When my husband gets a good job, then I’ll be happy. And guess what happens? I get what I was hoping for, and I still find something to be unhappy about. Or worse, I don’t get what I wanted, and I feel justified in remaining unhappy. The sign reminded me not to pin my happiness on something that might happen in the future.

But here’s something I’m just realizing recently: if you want to find happiness now, rather than in the future, you need to be able to make your own happiness. Is it possible that happiness is a choice? I’m not sure if this is true for someone in the midst of true clinical depression, and I hope I’m not sounding like those clueless people who tell you to just snap out of it and cheer up. But for those of us struggling with mild depression, or maybe just the ups and downs of everyday life, I think it’s possible to choose happiness. When I’m feeling down, I have two choices: I can do the thing that feels good initially, like holing up in my room and watching reality TV, and dwelling on everything that’s bothering me at the moment; or I can do the thing that will make me feel better in the long run, like taking a walk, or putting down the book I’m trying to read and giving the kids my full attention, or putting on some cheerful music and dancing around.

This isn’t easy! It takes so much effort. But each day I’m learning more and more that I have control over my mood, and I don’t have to be a slave to my emotions. Try to be happy! It doesn’t work every time, but I never regret trying.

Memories of Father George

Two weeks ago, my fourth child was baptized by Father George Majka, the priest who married me and my husband. After the baptism he hurried off to pack for his yearly vacation–his one luxury, as far as I can tell, and a much-deserved one. He flew to the Dominican Republic, where he went scuba diving and drowned.

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As my husband commented, he was just moving on to his eternal vacation, that place of “light and refreshment” he had earned by over thirty years of sacrifice as a priest. I was also reminded of what my father said when Mother Teresa died: bad news for us, but good news for her. I’m very happy for Father George, and I’m convinced he’s in heaven already, and his body is whole again and he’s free from his suffering.

Father George was in terrible health. He was a very large man with breathing problems, and he had to stop and rest after climbing just a few stairs. You could see what a great effort it was for him to make it through the Mass. In spite of this, he never took shortcuts. He gave beautiful sermons every week, sang every hymn, and only sat down to deliver his sermon once that I can remember. I remember being heavily pregnant in the heat of the summer and often sitting down in the pew to rest, but feeling ashamed when I noticed that Father George never took the easy way out: he said each Mass reverently and thoughtfully, on his feet, even though it was obviously difficult for him to even stand.

Father George loved singing. His regular speaking voice was a bit high and unimpressive, but when he sang, a deep and powerful voice took over. He sung the hymns like he meant them, and you could tell he enjoyed them–you could always hear him whistling them after Mass. He had a unique way of picking hymns: he picked whatever directly corresponded to one of the readings, especially if it had a direct quote from the Bible passage. This led to a lot of weird hymns being selected, but it really drove in the theme of the readings. He would even cherry-pick verses: “We will sing hymn number 405, verses 1, 3, and 5.” When we picked “Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise” for one of our wedding hymns, he requested that we skip the second verse, which “doesn’t really do anything for me. But the third verse really sends me!”

Rest in peace, Father, and pray for us to be as strong and dedicated as you!

Will You Sweep Away the Righteous with the Wicked?

by Bill Mauldin, via Wikipedia

When I was in college, I thought America was pretty wonderful. As I got older, I was bombarded with the many ways she has fallen from her ideals, and I felt obligated to pretend that there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong, or at least nothing that we couldn’t overcome. To acknowledge America’s faults felt like a betrayal of my love for her. These days I’m working on detachment–loving what’s good about America, but not pinning my hopes on her when they should be elsewhere. I am reminding myself that America is just a country–a country with a lot of God’s truth at her core, and a country I’m lucky to live in–but still just a country: a country that comes and goes in the blink of God’s eye like any other.

For all who have felt my disillusionment, remember that detachment doesn’t mean that you don’t care about something; it just means caring about it only as much as is proper to its intrinsic worth. You can love America without being crushed by the idea that someday she will be gone. But whatever you may think about America today, it’s at least worth praying for. If God was willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous men, don’t you think He could find ten righteous things left in America worth saving, if we remind Him?

Keep Moving

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“Cliffhanger” by Sam Purtill, via Flickr

A few days ago I came upon a quote from St. Bernard that really struck me:

You must either ascend or descend; if you try to remain in one position, you are sure to fall.

This might sound like a challenge or a threat at first; but I find it helpful because it sounds more like advice to me. When you’re fighting depression, or temptation, trying to stay in one place out of sheer force of will is not likely to work. Getting up and doing something is the only way to make some progress.

Imagine you’re sitting at home in front of your computer, and you’re attacked with a strong temptation to watch pornography. White-knuckling it is not going to work. Instead of doing your best to stay in your current position–in the near occasion of sin, but not sinning–you’d do much better to get moving. Go out of the room, call a friend, go outside, read a book, anything to distract your mind.

If your toddler keeps getting into the sugar bowl, you’re probably going to be disappointed if you keep admonishing him and putting the sugar back, hoping that his self-control will kick in. Do something! Put that sugar bowl on a higher shelf!

This doesn’t just apply to sin, either. When I was studying abroad in college, I fell suddenly into one of the deepest depressions of my life. I caught myself stopping in the middle of the staircase, trying to come up with a reason to take the next step. What finally brought me out of it was happening upon a quote similar to the one above, which reminded me that sitting there, being depressed, was never going to improve things. I had an impulse to pick up my homework, which was a reading from St. Thomas Aquinas, just to give myself something to do other than focus on my despair. To my surprise, I got completely caught up in the reading, and I was out of the depression when I finished. (Thank you, St. Thomas!) The chapter I read wasn’t particularly relevant to my situation or anything I was particularly interested in; it was just the act of doing something normal, something to take me out of myself, that rescued me.

When you’re stuck in a rut, don’t worry about finding the absolute best thing to do with yourself–just do something! You’ll be moving forward.