For reasons of shared-pastor, our priest doesn’t celebrate mass at my small-church on Tuesdays. Usually a substitute priest will celebrate instead, or a deacon, or this one guy who is in the diaconate program.
If all else fails, though, I’m asked to cover in a communion service featuring the day’s readings, the already-consecrated Eucharist, and an old Microsoft Word document printed off long ago with the directions for the service. And that’s what happened on Tuesday. So, I gathered the prayer books and my nerves, and started.
There are two readings at weekday masses—one from the Gospel, one from somewhere else. Our “somewhere else” has been Hebrews the past few days, and I read the first few verses of chapter 12, about the great cloud of witnesses and running the race of faith. The Gospel was about two women: one, twelve years old and dying; the other, hemorrhaging for twelve years. (Fun game: how many times is the number 12 referenced in this last paragraph alone??)
I’m not entirely sure if I’m supposed to give an inspirational message or not in these situations—some people do, others don’t; I’ve been told to do it, other times not to worry about it—so, sometimes I share a bit about my life at the moment, and sometimes I don’t.
But, on Tuesday, I did.
On Tuesday, after mass, a friend texted that she was nearby, was I at work? And I said I was and she brought me a bag full of gluten-free foods, beautiful flowers, sea salt hair spray (only those growing out pixie cuts truly understand the pain of growing out a pixie cut) and tissues (the best). She told me she read about the accident on the blog. We hugged, chatted for a minute, departed.
And I carried those flowers all day. I carried them to a meeting the next night, before catching a ride home with a coworker and everyone asked, “Is today your birthday?” and I said, “No. No, it’s not. A friend just gave them to me.”
On Tuesday, after work, I skedaddled to the bus stop to wait for the bus, since my car is in the shop. Right now, in Michigan, the sky stays overcast always. So, even though the day comes, the blue of the sky is never visible…only a grey. I stood in the grey, kicked about the frozen chunks of snow and ice by the curb, made small talk with a guy waiting for a different bus, tried to stay warm.
The bus I needed never came, so I hopped on one with a similar route after I realized the error. I sat down, pulled my bag into my lap, ready for the commute.
The ride home was long and brutal. The snow plus road construction plus traffic meant I sat on the bus for over two hours, dropped off a few miles from my house. Ugh.
At one point, a man with a tan coat and a cane and a ready laugh entered and flirted with the bus driver, loudly. She laughed back, bantered back as he made his way to the seat.
Out the window, at one point, I saw two women making their way through the snow-drifted sidewalk. They looked like sisters, moved like sisters (I have a sister, I know. I live da sister LIFE). One, though, had the red-and-white cane of someone affected by blindness, and she clutched the arm of the seeing-sister, who forged ahead. At one point, the one with the cane stumbled over a drift of snow and danced the bumbled steps of someone looking to gain her footing. The seeing sister was not impressed, she pressed ahead still, holding the arm of her sister. I could tell that this was just their relationship, their personalities; that the seeing sister knew the blind sister’s capabilities and expected as much. Together they made their way on.
Public transportation in Detroit isn’t all easy, though. I saw an old man whisper/ gesture to a little girl who rode the bus with other children. The little girl stiffened uncomfortably. A lady entered at that stop, though, and happened to sit by the old man, in the seat next to him, so he didn’t say anything else.
A man sat in the empty seat next to me. I asked him, “How’s it going?” But, he didn’t answer with words or even eye contact. He called a company and spoke angrily with their customer service representative until he came to his stop and exited the bus.
When St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about the 14 Points of Discernment, he talks about seasons in the spiritual life. One of them is consolation, associated with feeling close to God/ His direction/ His love. The other, desolation, occurs when you don’t sense God in the same ways anymore.
Now, consolation is not necessarily “good,” and desolation is not necessarily “bad,” they’re just both realities. Even the great saints, like Mother Teresa or St. Therese of Liseiux, for instance, experienced desolation.
What’s the secret, then? Well, awareness, probably. Awareness that they exist. Awareness that one will follow the other.
One, in particular, stood out to me this week: the idea of not abandoning your resolutions for improvement once you hit the season of desolation.
I know you know about the accident. I know you know it was on the way to church, just so I could do Jesus-y things, for goodness’ sake! It was enough to leave me in the car with my snotty mitten like, “Why am I even doing the things?”
Father Ryan would say the key to navigating spiritual consolation and desolation is: indifference. Be aware, but keep the reigns.
On Tuesday I talked about the “cloud of witnesses” as being the saints. Don’t give me any points of originality, I’ve heard it before.
I thought about St. Ignatius when I read that. St. Ignatius and St. Damian of Molokai and Mother Teresa…in her season of desolation.
One of the keys of desolation is this: keep going, even when it’s hard. In fact, push yourself when it’s hard!
The Gospel story, again, was this one: parents of a sick child whose child dies. But Jesus tells them to have faith, to have courage. There is a woman who has suffered for years and years. And Jesus tells her it is her faith that saves her. How great must have been their consolation after Jesus healed, then!
A different Father Ryan (let’s just differentiate) talked a few weeks back about a phrase that struck me: “the darkness of faith.” Many times you just don’t know what’s ahead…and that’s where faith comes in.
I guess in my line of work/ life, I come into contact with priests a lot. Or, at least, judging from this leetle written piece I do. 🙂 I talked to another one tonight, briefly, about the things that are hard right now.
“And yet,” he said, “this is where Jesus has you. Take the hardships to him. Unite them with Him. Because, honestly, they sadden Him, too.”
He’s right, you know. All of the injustices and half-hearted steps of “faith”…they’re just as hard on the head as they are on the body.
Desolation. Hardships. Daily challenges.
They all exist. But, also, faith.
And so…we forge ahead.