Every year, my friend reminds me of the saying I once told her, the one so often used by my grandmother:
"The devil sits on the monastery walls."
I always look with great anticipation to the twice-yearly silent retreats at the Carmelite Monastery, even though I know the worst evil attacks follow it and often happen to catch me off-guard. This year, the father of lies took another approach: he made the week preceding it so trying that I nearly didn't get to the retreat at all.
First, I have to say that when I went to work for a Catholic entity, I naively believed that I would see a greatly diminished number of evil people. Sadly, I was very wrong. When I shared this observation with a dear friend, she brought me back to reality. She told me she is convinced that if we had the most simple job in the world, there would still be someone present to test us and to beg, by their behavior, for our prayers and correction. This is part of what she meant when she told me a few months back that God isn't fooling around with us anymore. It's time for the rubber to meet the road.
In addition to my trials with difficult personalities, a hand full of people who come to work each day looking to do as little as possible while making life difficult for others, I had another trial. The educator who supports my departments made it known weeks ago that he does not welcome my presence. He is the same person who went so far as to question my Christianity because I dared to hold someone accountable. He told me that I needed to enroll in a course to earn the required hours in emergency and trauma nursing and I believed him. I thought it was just going to be a didactic course but I was wrong. The didactic portion was brief and the rest of the time was taken up by an oral and written exam for which I was not prepared, since emergency nursing isn't my background. What's more, he gave me the wrong book, so I couldn't even follow the instructor during the lectures. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn't know any of this when he enrolled me in the course and gave me the book, but it is very hard for me to accept this because of past experience with this person.
On Thursday, at the conclusion of the first of the two-day course, I left with a migraine so severe I didn't know how I was going to drive home without getting ill in the car. To make matters worse, the setting sun created a glare that seemed barbaric to my throbbing head, and it seemed to me like the sun was mocking me the whole ride. During the ride, I thought of how I could escape my current fate. I thought I would go home and collect a few belongings and then go live out on the street, abandoning my family and leaving my kids with no health insurance, no financial support and no mother. I pictured myself losing all my teeth and being the kind of person others avoid, but it would be ok, because I'd never have to work again. When I got home, I told my husband how much life insurance I have and how I didn't think I could go on anymore. What a lovely thing to say to your spouse at any time of year, but especially just a few weeks from Christmas. What happened to that thing called faith? What happened to putting all my trust in Jesus?
My husband sent me to bed and told me I'd feel better after lying down for awhile and getting some relief for my headache. He was right. When I got up, I decided I would go back to the class in the morning and explain to the instructors that I realized I did not have to take the course and that I was sorry if I had wasted anyone's time but that I was not prepared for this course and I didn't want them to spend too much time with me.
I pulled one of the instructors aside and explained my plight. She agreed that I did not need the course to fulfill my requirements but since I had come this far, I might as well do the rest. So with my head still throbbing from the day before, I took the written and oral exam that afternoon. I passed the former on the first try and the latter on the second. It was all I could do not to throw up in a trash can. It wasn't pretty, but I passed. I drove him again with a pounding headache and the sun continuing to mock me as it blinded me and made the ride that more agonizing.
It was then that I realized that it was the first Friday of the month and that for the first time in over 5 years, I had missed the votive Mass of the Sacred Heart. I feebly struggled to pray the Rosary on the way home. I realized that I needed to go to confession but at this late hour, I would never make it in time.
I also remembered the words of my beloved Father Jim, that Christ would never ask me to run myself ragged for Him. He would not demand that I should drive myself to the point where I was ready to give up. That kind of thinking comes from the father of lies, disguised as fake piety and unrealistic obligation. Instead of dragging myself to my appointed Adoration hour at 8pm, I realized that what I needed most was sleep, so I said my prayers in my room and then went to bed. I was needed at the retreat early in the morning.
As God would have it, at the retreat the next day, I happened to be helping clean up when the priests who would be hearing confession arrived. My friend who had organized the day said to me "I don't know if you need to go or not, but if you want, why don't you ask Father to hear your confession first, since you're already up here and the convocation isn't over yet?" It was music to my ears. I would ask and receive forgiveness for surrendering to despair.
God gave me another gift yesterday. Rebecca awoke feeling under the weather, but she wouldn't hear of not going to the retreat. She took some ibuprofen for her throat and dressed in layers and spent the day with her mother at the Carmel. She observed the silence perfectly, did not complain once, and wore the look of angelic beauty that endears her to me so much. It was her first retreat in a place that is full of reminders of the suffering Christ. I thought of how the Lord had endowed her such patience and love that at 15, she would be willing to give up her Saturday to get up before dawn and spend the day in service of Him, when she was feeling less than fit to do so. I thought of her siblings and how they would never have agreed to come in the first place, and how if they did, they would have tortured me to leave and plagued me with guilt for the fact that I dragged them out sick.
The other day, the oldest said something to me that reminded me that there is no blade so sharp as a child's tongue.
"Rebecca was raised by a different mother than I was," she said, matter-of-factly, her words stinging in the way they were meant to sting. She's right about that and not a day goes by that I don't hold myself responsible for the fact that she is again away from the Church and the Sacraments.
The last gift of the day would come when I got home and received word that Father Galligan had passed and gone home to be with the Lord.
Every day after Holy Communion, I pray the Anima Christi.
"From the malignant enemy, defend me".
He will, but only if I permit Him to do so by trusting Him so completely, despair seeks some other place to reside.