Tag Archives: Blessed Mother

What a Waste

I am pretty sure I will spend a good deal of time in Purgatory for the amount of food I have wasted.  I don’t mind throwing away the dregs of an Easter basket or cheese doodles and processed cupcakes left over from the grandparents’ visit.  These can hardly be considered food in the first place.  What strikes at my conscience is the times I am forced to throw away a quarter pound of expired lunch meat that I forgot about or a half of a bag of browning broccoli from the warehouse club that I neglected to prepare in time.  Then there are the hotdog or hamburger buns left from some event that mold before we have hotdogs again, or the worst- the dumping of the tupperware from the back of the fridge that is full of, now what was that?.  During the gag-inducing fridge purge I always pray for mercy.  I ask Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who would have gladly served my forgotten food in its better days, to intercede for those who go hungry around the world and in my own town.  And to win me the grace of better meal planning and discipline so that next time I clean the fridge I don’t fill the trash can to overflowing.

No one buys food at the grocery store with the intention of tossing it, or prepares a meal with the intention of putting it in the back of the fridge for three months and then flushing it.  But many of us do just that.  I read a women’s magazine article that stated Americans typically toss 10% of the food they buy.  The stat sickened me.  Not only for the fact that someone went through the trouble of growing or raising that food, or the fact that someone  is hungry right now for lack of food, but for the irony of the fact that I often stand in front of two products trying to compare cost per ounce to save a few bucks.  What good is it to double my 25 cent coupon when I am throwing away 10 dollars worth of food in one cleaning spree?  To waste food is just that: an all around waste.

If we are good at wasting valuable food, we are even better at wasting something more valuable yet: suffering.  At this point you may be thinking, “Suffering? I thought she was going to say ‘time’, or ‘talent’ or even ‘last month’s rollerover minutes’.  What good is suffering at all and how does one waste it?”  I’m glad you asked!

If you’ve read my blog before you may have heard this before, but it bears repeating.  Suffering is a deprivation of a good that one ought to have.  It doesn’t have existence unto itself, much the same as cold is the absence of heat or darkeness the absence of light.  We suffer when we do not have health or companionship or physical necessities.  Note also that we only suffer the lack of things that are proper to us.  I do not suffer for lack of wings, for example, since I ought not have them.  Lop off my leg, however, and suffering will follow. 

 Bear with me for a moment, and let’s follow this line of thinking to the end.  Think about the best good there is.  That would be God, the source of Goodness itself.  The worst suffering then, would be to be deprived of this, and for eternity.  That is called hell.  The means by which we go about bringing this worst suffering upon ourselves is called “dying in unrepentant grave sin”. 

So if it wasn’t before, it’s clear what suffering is.  And we all know that it touches every one of us in various ways at various times in our lives.  But, how could it possibly be valuable?  The answer is that on it’s own, it is not.  There is nothing inherently wonderful about loneliness, hunger or pain.  We detest and attempt to avoid it.  This is part of our defense mechanism.  But think about the minor, or even grave, sufferings you are willing to endure for a greater good.  This is evident in everything from cleaning out a child’s cut to undergoing chemotherapy.  If it’s necessary for the life or well being of those we love most, we will put up with just about anything.

This is what Jesus was thinking when He left heaven to live in suffering and poverty for 33 years only to have it all end by being subjected to the most humiliating and barbaric death on the books.  It was necessary for those He loved most.  You and me.  He understood that the worst of all sufferings for you and for me (hell, remember), could only be prevented by His life, death and resurrection.  By His death, Jesus offers the just penalty for sin, in its perfection.  He also loves the Father, in His flesh, with perfect love that we in our fallen state could not attain.  Jesus’ suffering had great worth, as it attained for us the best good– heaven!

This is where our suffering gets its merit.  Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect, but in His mercy, He leaves it open for us to participate in “what is lacking” in His own suffering.  There is room on that Cross for my deep losses and my daily irritations.  These, offered in union with the Passion of Christ, can help bring about the mission that He came to accomplish: our sanctification.  Wow.

Have you ever thought about why Mary was told at the Presentation that a sword would pierce her heart? Lucky for me my Mariology professor had.  For 33 years, she was holding that phrase of Simeon’s in her heart.  For 33 years pondering the untold suffering her son would endure.  Why would God do that to her? To prepare her, for one.  But for another, I think, because God knew she wouldn’t waste a moment of that suffering and He knew how much we would need the graces that she would merit for us. 

But how much more like me and my fridge are we usually than like our Blessed Mother? How many conversions are still waiting to be won because we responded to a difficulty with despair or anger instead of offering it as a gift back to Jesus?  Fr. Elbee in his book, I Believe in Love says, “In the apostolate, the price of souls is suffering, offered in love.” And sometimes it is the daily trials that we waste the most.  I know in my own life, my deepest sorrows have been easier to offer up than the trial of finding that my husband and son have just eaten popcorn over my freshly vacuumed carpet, again

 So, in this most busy time of year, let’s try to see our sufferings as a treasure chest of grace waiting to be released into the world.  And, for heaven’s sake, eat that meatloaf before it goes bad!

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Sacrifice: Out of Style?

Our pastor opened his Mother’s Day homily today talking about St. Gianna Molla.  As he told her story about sacrificing her own life for that of her unborn baby I tried to listen with skeptical ears (I do this every so often… trying think of how something sounds to a different audience than me).  The result: “that woman’s not courageous! She’s crazy! How dare she leave her other three children motherless?”  There are many who could hear Gianna’s story and think about what a shame it was that she was brainwashed by the patriarchal hierarchy into orphaning her kids.  Then Father told a story of how his own mother, pregnant with him in the 1950’s, was given the suggestion by a friend that she should terminate her pregnancy because her other 7 children were enough of a handful.  How many argue that abortion should be legal for just such circumstances?

It made me think: motherhood is sacrifice.  From morning sickness to midnight feedings to waiting up for a teen to make curfew to wondering if the adult child will find his or her way in life.  This kind of sacrifice is not only unpopular in modern life, but can even be seen as foolish.  Anymore a woman who is exhausted from caring for her four children is met not with an encouraging word, but an admonition for overpopulating the earth… that’s what she gets!  Even parenting magazines are peppered with advice on how women can “make more time for me”, buy things because they “deserve them”, or pamper themselves with some expensive spa treatment or bubble bath.  What seems to be implied in many articles I’ve seen is that women need to be looking out primarily for #1: even in their relationships with their husbands and children.

Now, of course moms need to care for themselves, make time for quiet, be appreciated by their families and even splurge on themselves once and a while.  But family life should be built on a sincere gift of self, a desire to put those you love ahead of yourself.  The more a family lives this out, the more harmony there is in a home.  The more we grasp for what we want or even what we perceive we need, the harder things get.  I know this from experience, as  “keeping score” in family life has sent me to the confessional more times than I would like to admit! 

And obviously, no one admires the woman who leaves her toddler in the car while she gambles at the casino, or the dad who never sees his kids because he is always out with his buddies.  We wag our fingers at blatant selfishness.  But total self-sacrifice is frowned upon as well.  If we knock out the extremes, we’re left with is a gray mediocrity where we are trying to do enough “to be a good person” while always looking over our shoulders, on guard against “being taken advantage of”.  This is our culture ideal?  Yuck. Do less and you’re looked down upon, do more and you’re hated for being an overacheiver. 

What about the Christian view, then? The goal we are set for is higher than the best of us could ever attain on our own: complete surrender and self-sacrifice.  But the blessing is that we don’t have to do it on our own! God himself to give us his power to acheive this level of perfection, called holiness.  Not that we don’t fall, sometimes hundreds of times in a day.  Not that this means our houses are always clean, our children always well mannered, or that we never have to dump leftovers we promised we’d eat.  But our desire to strive for perfection itself is a gift of love to our families.  And the saints, especially working moms like St. Gianna, help us to know that such heroism is possible for women like us!

So, let’s recognize the beauty of sacrifice for what it is, and measure ourselves by perfect charity, however far off that may be for us!  Who knows? One day a Mother’s Day homiliy 60 years from now may begin with one of your stories!

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That Good Friday Feeling

Ask any ten kids if they prefer Easter or Christmas, and I can bet Christmas wins every time.  That’s how it was for me growing up.  I could understand Christmas: birth of a special baby and cheer, sugar and presents.  Easter is much harder because it’s harder for kids to relate to Jesus’ torture, death and resurrection.  Perhaps the hardest part was Good Friday, and trying to “feel sad” all day when it really seemed like a normal day.  I never quite knew what to do with myself.  Could you play? Laugh? Have fun? Then on Saturday, could you be happy again? We were kind of getting ready, dyeing eggs and such, so the mood was somewhat lifted, but there was a thought I should save “really happy” for Easter Sunday.  And when Easter came, and there was whining over the choice of dress, and grumbling when we had to stand during Mass because we forgot how many extra people show up, and sugar highs and crashes, the “happy” wasn’t always a given, either.

One of my high school students made a passing comment a few weeks ago about having to feel sad on Good Friday which brought me back to my childhood experiences of Holy Week.  Looking at it now, I realize one of the problems is clear: Holy Week is not about feelings.  We remember and in a very real sense re-live the betrayal, death and triumph of our dear Savior.  We shouldn’t need to muster up positive and negative emotions any more than I needed a pre-programmed mood at my kids’ funerals.  The grief experts are careful to have you not “bottle up” emotion, but force it? Ridiculous.  If Jesus is as precious to us as we proclaim that He is, the emotions will be there.  If we don’t know Him, the emotion may be the kind of abstract regret we feel when we read about a school shooting in the paper.  Or, to be honest, probably a mix of both.  (Only Mary can really claim to love Jesus with all her heart.)

And of course, Jesus isn’t just another righteous leader cut down by the evil bureaucracy of His day.  He is the Savior of the World.  His Passion is not just some heroic act.  It has the power to save us from hell.  He does not die for some ideal.  He dies in my place.  These are things that should cause us to tremble… tremble… tremble.  Again, do they? Instead of “sad”, should we try to manufacture some “guilt” or “gratitude”?  Those feelings are appropriate, but if they are forced, they are as effective as a playground apology.  Instead, the antidote is to let God love us more.  To sit at His feet, experience His mercy (especially in the confessional), and just simply put ourselves in His presence.  As one of my professors is fond of saying, God can’t just sit there. He is Love, and love is a verb.  And Jesus’ death released the Holy Spirit, the One whose job it is to help that Love move our hearts to gratitude and conversion– from within.  So as the Triduum approaches, let’s make some extra time to be with the One who loved us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us.  And the feelings can fall where they may.

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Mother of Sorrow

One of the great honors of burying a child is the way that others open up to you about their own grief.  It’s like being initiated into a very strange secret society, except that no one joins it on purpose.  Since my initiation two and a half years ago I have heard a lot of stories of loss that as I mentioned on Tuesday, I take more closely to heart than I could have before.  I think what saddens me most is parents who have lost children older than mine.  (This, of course is most of them, since Peter and Gianna were so young when they died.)

I am not trying to minimize my grief or anyone else’s.  The grief of a parent who loses a baby to miscarriage or early infant death grieves more for what could have been. For their hopes. For the things they did not get to do with the child.  Of course we miss our babies.  They are real people no matter how long they lived and we suffer because they should be with us and they aren’t.  But I think it is also safe to say that the longer someone is around, the more we invest in them and the more it hurts when they are absent.  And I am careful not to say we “get attached” to them.  While that is true, I think the matter is love, not mere affection.  The more we give of ourselves to someone, the more of us they take with them when they go.  Even the parents I know who cared for their children for just a year or so poured out their hearts in dedicated service to their child for four times longer than we did.  Again, not to minimize.  Just to make the point that the more we love the more we grieve.

And that brings me to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  This woman, saved through her Son, was preserved from the stain of Original Sin, and did not commit apietany personal sin in her lifetime.  Since sin is a failure to love, then we can safely say that Mary never passed up an opportunity to make a gift of herself fully to anyone.  And who could this woman love more fully than the only One capable of surpassing her own ability to love?  Jesus, of course.  Can you imagine their relationship? How deep, how tender, how intimately pure and beautiful?

How, then, must this dear woman have felt at the foot of the Cross? She loved with her whole heart as perfectly as any human being could.  More than any purely human creature, before or since.  And her Divine Son, whom she had cherished for 33 years, hung bloodied and rejected before her.  There is a reason she is called Our Lady of Sorrows.  And if we sinners can see our own capacity for authentic compassion grow with our own losses, what a bottomless fount of mercy she must be.  Let us not hesitate to take to her our own deepest sorrows, doubts or even anger.  She knows what it means to grieve, and as our Mother, she grieves with us.

Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided…

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