Mass worship

I came across a meditation suggesting to ponder “God requires Catholic Christians to assist at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.” I think what caught my eye was the word assist.

I was surprised by the use of assist rather than attend. Is there any difference between the two? When looking up these words in Merriam-Webster, the results of both their meanings and their roots were a bit unexpected. For me, assist is more of an action word; ready to spring into action when the lead needs support, which is one of the two definitions for the word. I would consider those that perform a specific liturgical function, like an altar server, choir member, and lector would be classified as assisting at Mass, but not the general congregation. Oddly enough, the second definition is, “to be present as a spectator,” which is a far cry from the attitude the Church is calling us to bring to Mass. The etymology of assist has a root which means “to be present near, stand near.“ This is a good definition for our actions at Mass, as we do stand near the presence of Jesus hidden in the mystery of the Eucharist. 

Attend would be the word I would choose for those who do not have a specific functional activity at a Mass. Usually I will say, “I need to go to Mass on Sunday morning,” which is one of the definitions of attend. Out of the several definitions for the word, I think I like “to be present with : accompany” as the one that most closely indicates what we do at Mass. We accompany the priest as he dives into the mystery of Jesus in both word and sacrament. Yet the root for the word means “to stretch.” While at first I thought how odd it was that the meaning has changed so much through the centuries, but perhaps originally, one was stretching themselves or their capabilities in order to be present to another person. In some ways, we too, stretch ourselves in order to go to Mass. 

Since words matter, I cracked open the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see how it conveyed the requirement for Mass and found this gem:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1141

This describes way more than attending and assisting at Mass. This is a call to worship God with “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) It also includes that we have not only an obligation, but our Baptism provides us the right in that full participation. For a country that loves its rights, this spiritual right is far more rewarding than any secular one. Once we are baptized, no one can take that right from us; it is only when we turn away from God that we forgo that right. God is always calling us back to communion with Him, ready to bestow His mercy to those who repent and turn towards Him. 

I may go to Mass, but I do choose to participate in the responses and singing. While it’s hard not to slip into Mass being a routine activity that we check off on our list of requirements, we are given the opportunity each week to bring our full selves to God. Our beauty and our flaws we present to God, as well as our attention and distractions. While coming and sitting in a pew for Mass may be a first step for some, it is not the level of participation to which we are called. Perhaps the next Mass we attend, we can try to go a bit deeper in giving worship, that is our full selves, to the Triune God who created us to be more than we ourselves could ever imagine.

Banquet invitation

Last Friday’s Gospel told the parable of The Ten Virgins and Sunday’s the parable of The Banquet Attendees. While both parables are common in Jesus’ teachings, understanding them is not often as simple as their obvious stories. 

The parable of the virgins with their lamps awaiting the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13) often has the reader declaring “unfair!” For a God who teaches us to love one another and multiplies bread and fish to feed thousands, why couldn’t the women have shared a little oil with those who failed to bring extra for their lamps? It feels like a curveball is being thrown at us with their refusal and their direction to the others to buy it from the merchants in a time when there wasn’t a 24-hour convenience store. But the oil is not just fuel for lamps, it is a correlation between the ladies and the relationship they have with the Bridegroom, Jesus. For each time a lady said yes to whatever Jesus asked of her — the good deeds, the forgiveness of others, the times of sacrifice — they became the fuel for the lamp she uses waiting for Jesus to come. She can’t give it away since it is her devotion to God that provides it. Yet even when one is familiar with the general meaning of the parable, there is always more to investigate each time it is read.

The story of the attendees who jostled each other to get the best seat at the banquet (Lk 14:1, 7-14) doesn’t seem like much of a parable. Its literal meaning is easily understandable…  maybe even too easy? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of parable is “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” The roots of the word reach back to the Greek translation that has “comparison” as a stem. So what is this parable comparing itself to? We can get lost in the example of humility the story conveys, that it’s hard to see any other narrative. Yet the key to this parable is in plain sight: a wedding banquet.

Just as in the parable of the ten virgins deals with a bridegroom, the one about the attendees at a banquet is also about a wedding. And this isn’t just anyone’s wedding, it is the marriage of heaven and earth; with Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. The comparison that Jesus is making is that in the spiritual life prestige is worthless and humility shines. All the honor we gain, all the recognition that we so diligently work for during our life on earth, does not bring us closer to God  but rather it pushes us further away. God will be asking us to take a lower seat, while He invites those who have worked humbly on earth to be closer to Him. 

I can understand the parable of those jostling for a better seat, but being an introvert usually has me seeking a table in the back so that I can observe all that is going on at a function. In social situations it can look like I am a humble person, but humility is not just in the most obvious search for honor. Humility includes not comparing oneself to a person or making judgements about another. Humility is also about doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because you will be lauded for it. Humility is about sharing the blessings you have received with others because you know God has bestowed them on you; so that you can be His eyes, His ears, His hands, and His smile when you share His love with others. 

Jesus and Mary are two excellent role models for humility. Humility, like faith, is not a once and done thing; it is the fruit of seeking a relationship with God. Let us always reach out for their assistance as we journey onwards towards the heavenly banquet God has prepared for us. 

Catholic Girl Journey

Unique salvation

In this past Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 13:22-30), Jesus was asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” It’s an interesting question that doesn’t get answered. But perhaps it is a question that can’t be answered. 

Other Christian denominations ask, “Are you saved?” as a tactic to start their evangelization. The basis for this question is to find out if a person has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and if so, they have all confidence that they will be saved and have a place in heaven. This predicates that salvation is based on one, single act at a point in a person’s life. The issue with this assumption is that one may reduce life down to one moment in time, but  how can one select which moment upon which they should be judged? The question of who will be saved (or how many) is really irrelevant since it seeks to be the judge or the measure of salvation. We want to compare ourselves against others, and as long as we align on the side of being saved, we can wag our fingers at others and laugh at their misfortune. 

Jesus’ answer to the question in the Gospel is not an exact count of salvation, but rather how to approach the journey of salvation. We know we do not earn salvation; it is only through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection that the door of salvation has been opened. He has created a path for us. But what does that path look like? Some will look at the Ten Commandments and say that is the measure of salvation. Others will use the precepts of the Catholic Church as a checklist of what needs to be accomplished in order to be saved. But salvation cannot be reduced to a checklist. It’s not a report card upon which you are graded. 

“He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.’” Strive is a verb denoting action that has etymological roots to that of “fight” as in “battle.” Does this mean we need to fight God in order to gain entrance to heaven? No, we don’t need to fight God, we need to fight ourselves: our pride, our wanting to pass judgment on others, and our desire to be god of all we encounter. We are not strong enough if we try to do this by ourselves (which is a form of pride) but instead only when we humble ourselves to let God lead us and to be the person God calls us to be. Our salvation is a summary of our life journey. Yes, there will be times we will fail, but there will also be times when we succeed. It is not a single moment in time, but rather a continual yes to God, turning towards God and seeking Him and His will for us. This life journey will transform us, if only we open ourselves up to Him. 

Every person is called to follow Jesus. Every person has the possibility to be saved. By having a relationship with Jesus, we can discern what He is calling us to do. Our salvation is unique to us because we are all called to serve Jesus differently. The commandments, the precepts, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are all guides to help us find our role in God’s plan of salvation. A life spent following Jesus is a life of action, of doing, of being. And after a lifetime of action and battling ourselves, we humble ourselves once more to leave it to God’s merciful judgment to determine if we will receive the everlasting gift of salvation. So the real question is not “will I be saved?” but rather “Jesus, how can I participate in your salvific will for me?”

Cross is Boss

During my recent weaving class, the documentation provided included the phrase, “The Cross is Boss.” I had to do a double-take when I saw it! My mind first thought of the Cross of Jesus, not the weaving term. In pondering it a bit, I think the cross in weaving is a good metaphor for the cross in Christianity.

Before even touching a loom to weave, first the loom must be dressed or warped. In measuring out the warp threads, the most common tool to use is a warping board. As each warp thread is measured out onto the pegs of the board, a figure eight is completed by passing the yarn from the top of one peg to below the next peg. This is only done in one area of the board and the over/under is called the cross. Very careful consideration is given this area of the warp, in fact you can call it the focal point when warping the loom. When the measured warp is brought to the loom, it is the careful placement of the yarns in order from the cross that is then threaded through the heddles and reed so that weaving can begin. It’s the cross that shows the alignment of the yarn, no matter how long the warp is. It is the cross that is the guide for tying on the warp so that it is even and straight. Loose the cross and everything is a mess. Can you still weave without it? Maybe, but the tension will be off and the whole fabric product will not turn out stable or consistent, not to mention that the warp threads will be a tangled mess of spaghetti. The cross really is the boss when it comes to warping the loom. 

So what does the cross in weaving have to do with Christianity? Well, similar to weaving, we need to keep our eyes on the cross of Jesus. It serves as a foundation for our lives if we want to have a relationship with Him. When we recognize the cross, we are called to realize our sins  and that Jesus doesn’t want us to wallow in the sinful world that we know, but rather to rise up with Him as a new creation imitating the love He shares with us all. We are called to be humble when we face persecution. We are called to forgiveness and mercy when others wrong us. We are called to give God our all, our entire self. And, perhaps most importantly, is that God loves us so much, there is no where we can go that His Love cannot reach. On the cross, Jesus is both the guide to help us take a step forward, as well as the hand to help us up when we fall. 

How many of us chafe against having the cross as boss of our lives? How many times do we want to do what we want, rather than letting the cross lead us? Are we too afraid that it will be too painful or that we won’t like it? Yet like the cross in weaving, if we loose the cross we end up misaligned and our lives are like a poor piece of fabric… uneven and practically falling apart. Let us seek the cross of Jesus as our boss, welcoming its guidance and corrections to make us be the best versions of ourselves. 

Milk and honey

From a  billion-dollar lottery to the parable of the rich man in the Gospel, wealth was definitely the hot topic this past week. While attending a Catholic training conference over the weekend, even one of the speakers commented about God’s promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) Throw in the popular quote from Ecclesiastes about “all things are vanity” from Sunday’s first reading, and all references seem rather confusing. (Ecc 1:2)

During the RCIA training (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), the speaker referred to the land of milk and honey promised in the Old Testament as an indicator of how wildly God is in love with us. I started to think about what milk and honey could represent. Whole milk has a richness to it, coating the glass that contains it, and honey is sweet without being overly sweet. The taste of honey can reflect the location and pollen  from the flowers the bees used to make it and milk would have been primarily from sheep and goats in Old Testament times and locations. If the land was flowing with milk, then the amount of those animals grazing there  would have had to have been massive. Also, the weather would have had to be the right combination of both rain and sun so that there would be enough grass on which the animals could feed and enough flowers to bloom for the bees. With the right weather, both the animals and the bees could thrive. It all comes down, however, to trusting God. If we believe that He will provide for us, even when things look bleak, God will give us what we need, when we need it. 

I was very tempted to play the lottery last week. I know my chances to win, especially if I only bought one ticket, would be miniscule, but it only takes one to win. With such a large jackpot, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to win, as that amount was just way too much. So how much is enough? If I wanted to retire today, I don’t know how much money I would need, especially with the soaring cost of everything. Would one million dollars be enough, or would I need a hundred million? And while retiring today would relieve me of the stress and drama of my current work situation, something else would ultimately come along to replace it. This is true, unless I put my total trust in God. We can learn from the various stories of the Saints, that a carefree life is one lived by doing God’s will, even amongst the hardships and difficulties that it brings. 

Perhaps winning enough to pay off my house and my car, and make the home improvements I want to make would be worth buying a ticket. For example, I want new windows (and there’s a lot of them!), but I don’t yet need them. However, do I trust that God will help me make good financial decisions so that when I do need to replace them, I will have the funds to do it? God gave us a model of work and rest to follow in the story of creation. He wants us to live life to the fullest and be the best version of ourselves. He wants us to work at improving ourselves and our fallen world. Our anxieties about money come from a need to control our circumstances and our future, to take what we want in the attempt to satisfy ourselves. Yet the Gospel reading reminds us that we can only control our response to what we receive. Most of us know the joy and satisfaction of a job well done. God wants us to experience that, balanced with rest and leisure, all while sharing an intimate relationship with Him in everything we do.

In sending Jesus, God has spared nothing to show us how much He loves us. His “crazy love” wants to shower us with the blessings of rich milk and sweet honey when we put our trust in Him. If we work for Him and with Him, He will provide. In the times when we are distracted by the world around us, God’s Word will remind us what is truly important: a life spent in love with Him.   

Practicing charity in small matters

I was able to laugh at a video that came up on Facebook, but then again, as someone who always returns a shopping cart to the designated area, I may not have been the target for the video. Sponsored by BBC Scotland’s The Social, The Trolley Theory is a comedic illustration of doing the right thing for society.

In the United Kingdom, the term trolley is used for what Americans would call a shopping cart. In a very succinct presentation, The Trolley Theory uses the simple act of returning the trolley as a representation of what makes a good or bad member of society. It is “the apex example of what is right and what is so very wrong with free will.” This line got me thinking and I started to wonder about those who don’t return the trolley or cart to the corral. Would they find this video amusing as I did? Or would they be offended? Would they even care or would they shrug it off as some other person’s problem? 

What is wrong with free will, is that we are all free to make choices that affect others, while thinking that it has no effect on anyone but ourselves. Yet, it is in this “wrong” that others have the ability to step up and do more than what our “responsibility” is. Continuing with the example of a shopping cart, the store that I now frequent has two cart sizes. I love using the small one, as I don’t get much and it’s more easily maneuvered throughout the store. In the various parking lot corrals for the carts, there is supposed to be one lane for small carts and one for the big ones.  When the situation presents itself, I will align a cart or two in addition to the one I’m returning. It really doesn’t take much effort to do it, and I hope that by aligning the carts, others who are returning theirs will keep the alignment. I don’t have to do it, but then again — as the video points out — I don’t have to return the trolley either. 

The counterpoint to argue against the trolley theory is that returning the trolley is really a selfish act. What happens when no one returns the trolley/cart? The parking lot becomes a minefield of potentially moving self-autonomous weapons, ready to ding the side of your car or worse to roll into the path of your vehicle as you try to enter or leave the parking lot. During busy times at the grocery store, it’s hard enough to watch for pedestrians and other vehicles. Adding abandoned carts with the potential to move on their own from the slightest stirring of a breeze is a hazard that can be avoided by properly returning the cart. It may be selfish for me to want to reduce the number of moving possibilities as I navigate through the parking lot, but my selfish act is not just helping me, but others too. However, can an action be selfish if it benefits more than just the person committing it? 

You may be thinking, “A whole blog post about shopping carts? What does it all matter?” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” (Lk 16:10) It doesn’t matter if it’s money, time, speech, or shopping carts, little details matter. Even so, we shouldn’t use these items to be judgemental to others, but rather look and choose the opportunities that benefit others. If the circumstances allow your options to go beyond what you would normally do, then do it. These “small matters” give us the chance to practice charity towards others. And by practicing, we can increase the love we have for others and reflect the love that Jesus has for us.

“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” 

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Meaning of sacrifice

While anyone can look up a definition of the word ‘sacrifice,’ what does the word mean to you? How would you classify it; does it have a connotation that is positive, negative, or neutral? Have you ever given any thought to the word? 

In ancient times, sacrifice was a habitual act. Various religions used it as a way to communicate with their deity. For the Israelites, it was a sacrifice of grains, first fruits, and livestock. Other religions demanded infants and children. These were times when most struggled to get enough to keep them and their family going throughout the year. To give up any food, especially the best, took courage and faith. We will never be able to begin to understand what it took for parents to give up their children in the cultures that required it. In eras when children did not always survive into adulthood, was it considered a blessing that they were sacrificed for what the family believed to be a higher purpose? In ancient times, sacrifice hurt and most people, if not all, were affected by it in some way.

In modern times, if you mention the word sacrifice, someone may think you are talking about a particular play in baseball — the sacrifice fly ball. Another may think of it in terms of time; perhaps parents have to sacrifice their weekend to shuttle their kids to different activities. Others may think of it in terms of money or material things, but many times it’s more about sacrificing a luxury than something that is truly essential. (No, the cup of coffee from Starbucks is not essential; a habit perhaps, maybe an addiction, but it is not a requirement for life.) For people in lower economic brackets, they may need to make choices between modern day necessities like electricity, water, food, and medicine, but these choices are not necessarily sacrifices, as they are not freely choosing to give up any or all of those elements. Rather they are choosing what’s most important to their life, given the funds that they have. 

Sacrifice is a word that is used in our modern language. Sometimes it is confused with choice, or perhaps misused instead of it. In using it as such, the connotation softens the word, so that the harsh starkness of giving up something that is critical to life, or even life itself, no longer resonates. As Catholics, we hear about the ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ and perhaps we have even used that phrase ourselves. Yet each week we go to Mass, as the words of consecration are spoken, do we realize that what is taking place is Jesus giving Himself up on the cross on Calvary? While the Mass is the ‘unbloodied sacrifice’ it is nonetheless re-presenting the ultimate sacrifice of a life for a life – namely Jesus’ life for ours. Jesus freely gives His life to atone for what we never will be able to do: to make full reparation for the sins we commit. And He did it because He loves us. He did it even knowing that people turned away from Him. He did it so that we can hope in His mercy. He did it so that we can become the best version of ourselves in spite of our sinful predisposition. 

Jesus is both God and man, and so His death hurt. Not just His family and followers at the time, but for everyone who believes in Him. We should allow ourselves to feel hurt by His death. In participating in His death, we can better appreciate the resurrection, His ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Being affected by these events, we can immerse ourselves in the life of Jesus, sacrificing ourselves to become His representation in our little corner of the world. 

“…Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh. I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.”

Gal 2:20

Piety from the Spirit

One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive at the sacrament of Confirmation is the gift of piety. But what is it and what do we do with it? 

At a basic level, piety is about respect for the sacred. We can start with God’s name. It’s not just about being sensitive when using the name Yaweh, it’s about respecting God’s name in all three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and this includes the name of Jesus. If we throw around the name of Jesus like it’s any other word, we are not being respectful to God. If we would not substitute our own name, or the name of a loved one, then we shouldn’t use Jesus’ name in our responses. 

“Sacred items” are those items set apart from the every day and are for use during Mass, prayer, and sacraments. In addition, we should respect  churches and church spaces, especially when people are there to pray. This may mean avoiding unnecessary conversation or removing yourself to another location. From buildings to rosaries, and all things inbetween, piety is  acknowledging that these items are not meant for our pleasure, but as conduits in our relationship with the Lord. Even something like holy water, (which is blessed) is not something we would use to bathe in, but rather we use to bless ourselves, reminding ourselves of our baptism, and to call on the grace we received in that sacrament to help us in our current challenge. 

Sometimes distractions can cause us to lose focus and test our ability to be pious. For example, walking up to receive the Eucharist, we should be preparing ourselves for receiving the greatest gift of all: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. Yet there is that cute baby peering over the shoulder of the parent in front of us. How could anyone not smile and give a little wave? And if we receive in the hand, do we present our hands like a throne for Jesus to be placed? And on our way back to our seats, do we take the time to welcome our Lord into our bodies or do we scan the crowd to see who’s there and acknowledge our friends? 

The gifts the Holy Spirit poured out on us at Confirmation may seem like that occurred a very long time ago. However, God is the master of all time, and His gifts do not have expiration dates. When we receive a gift from God, it’s not for us to keep and hold it. But rather, we are called to practice and share it. Piety is not for just “holy people” or saints, it’s for all of us. We are all called to be holy and practicing piety (with help from the Holy Spirit to lead us) will enable us to recognize the holy and sacredness of items and events in our lives. Our respect for sacred items is one way to love the God who wants nothing more than to shower us with even more gifts. We need to use and share what we have already received in order to receive more. Piety is not about perfection, it is a practice. Let us thank the Holy Spirit for this wonderful gift and ask His assistance as we put it into practice!

Carrying your cross

How many crosses do you carry? And I am not  talking about the jewelry you wear, the rosary in your pocket, or possibly the tattoo on your body. I mean the spiritual, sacrificial hardships that are uniquely yours to bear. Is there more than one? Or does it change as your spirituality grows?

Luke’s gospel (9:23) records Jesus indicating the call of discipleship is for us to deny ourselves,  to take up our cross daily, and follow Him. While many, especially in our modern culture of “me,” would think that the cross Catholics are called to carry is the denial of putting ourselves first, in reality the crosses we are meant to carry can many times be categorized as a weakness towards sin. Even St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians acknowledges the thorn of the flesh he was given. (2 Cor 12:7). For some of us it may be an addictive pattern, for others it may gossip or judging others. Although we may share the same inclinations with another, how we handle ourselves and address our weakness is unique to each individual.

Life is ever changing. If we focus on one particular area in our life to improve, it often seems that we falter in other multiple areas. Then as we shift our focal point to those other problem areas, the original element of focus ends up back in the same way prior to trying to fix it. Some may call it an endless battle and eventually give up. Yet Jesus didn’t indicate that we only needed to pick up one cross (or needed to pick it up once) but rather daily; that thought alone can be overwhelming. When we notice ourselves falling back into a pattern of sinful behavior, it is a golden opportunity to lean on Jesus and also the saints and angels for assistance. Just like Simon the Cyrenian helped Jesus carry His cross, Jesus does not abandon us to our own devices unless we specifically push Him away. Some days the weight of our cross can feel like it’s about to crush us,  on other days it could simply be an annoying inconvenience. Our journey with our crosses span the length of our lives and it’s how we embrace certain moments of spiritual exercise overall that will determine our success.

Not all crosses we bear are a direct reflection of our actions. Illness, separation, or death can also be burdens that challenge our spiritual journey. Yet these, too, are temporary and do not define our spiritual lives. They can ultimately bring us closer to God and others as we navigate our way through these times. 

It can be easy to look at others and be thankful that we don’t have the crosses they bear. Comparing our crosses to theirs may not only minimize the severity of ours in our minds, but can also minimize the impact and effect of addressing the weaknesses we do have. But venial sins can stack up quickly. Minimizing the impact of our actions can lead us dangerously into the sin of pride, as evidenced by the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). We also need to be cautious not to “decorate” our crosses just so that others can see what we are dealing with. 

We can’t choose which cross we want to pick up, but we are asked to acknowledge our cross (or crosses) and daily pick them (all) up with the Lord’s assistance. Carrying this burden sensitizes us to have compassion for others. Yet we don’t just pick it up and hold it; we carry it and follow Jesus. He has shown us that even when we fall, we need to rise up again and continue in the path He has made with His cross – all the way through to the resurrection. 

Blest to be poor in spirit

The first Beatitude: “Blest are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) is one that I found troublesome to understand. But when I heard Bishop Barron explain the ‘poor in spirit’ as those who are not addicted to good feelings, it made much more sense. Our society seems to expect us to always be happy and if we’re not, we feel that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

I had several days recently that were rather trying; nothing horrible, I was just perceiving everything as requiring a Herculean effort. Why did even the simplest of tasks seem so difficult? I kept praying and asking for help, yet it seemed as if I was moving through semi-solidified gelatin. With the expectation of needing to put on a good face, or be required to answer probing questions of what’s wrong, my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energies were depleted by the end of the day. Instead of having a good night’s sleep, my sleep pattern was interrupted, resulting in the next day my waking up tired or cranky, or both. I started to think, “What’s wrong with me? Why is this happening?” The expectations I had for myself were not being fulfilled, and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I was still praying, yet the words seemed hollow.

While I felt like I needed to put it in God’s hands, what exactly was I putting in His hands? What kind of intercessory prayer should I be praying? Because I felt like I was making poor choices, how could I ask God to fix something that I was responsible for? That was not fair to God. But that is a very human way of looking at life. God wants everything: our good and our less than stellar selves. The days were a hard slog to get through, and it was very difficult not to dig myself further into darkness by casting poor judgements upon myself. Then while at Mass, poor in spirit kept coming into my head and I realized what I was going through was an exercise to strengthen me for when I’m not my happy, smiling self. 

Everyone has times when not for any particular reason, they’re just not happy. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong or needs to be changed, but rather to stay the course and take things slow. It may mean that you need to go half-speed, and that’s okay. Some chores may only be half-done or not completed at all, and that’s okay. You may feel that you are lazy and making bad decisions, and saying prayers without meaning them, but it’s important to keep trying and to continue to ask God for support. These types of days don’t last forever and they are helpful in strengthening our compassion for others. While you may not feel very blessed as you journey through those cloud-filled days, the sun is still shining on the other side of the clouds and eventually the clouds will break. No matter how far away God seems to us, He is always walking the way right beside us.

When we allow ourselves to experience a full range of feelings throughout our human lives, and allow God to guide us through each, our lives are truly blessed. We can appreciate the happiness and joy of life because we experience even the days that are a struggle. Our lives are not summed up into one day or the feelings we had on any particular day. And we may never fully know or understand what God can do as we allow Him and His will be done, as we muddle our way through those dismal days. But  perhaps when we look back on our lives at the end, we may see the exquisite masterpiece God has painted, using the shadowed-times to punctuate the times of vibrance and full-color.