Well, when one of the fashion editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer weighs in on the new pope, you knew it had to happen.
Out - Majesty and grandeur
In - Bare threads and simplicity
Okay, so that's not exactly what one fashionista said, but in so many words, she kind of did. I have to tell you that I don't know who's worse - the PETA person who wrote a letter yesterday extolling the virtues of St Francis as an animal lover and who expressed hope that now God's four-legged creatures would get the respect they deserve. (Not a word about the babies Kermitt Gosnell butchered (his trial opened this week) - nope, not one.) Or the rad-trad who trashed the new pope because of the color of his wardrobe under his cassock and his so-called sloppy appearance. Same alley, different street when you think about it.
We are going to be hearing a lot about poverty, but what does it really mean? Things are a bit precarious in our household these days because my job has gone by the wayside and my husband's livelihood requires two good arms, a bit of a problem when you need not one but two total shoulder replacements. With the wedding coming fast and furiously, this didn't happen at an ideal time, at least not to the ordinary thinking person on the street. To me, the timing could not have been better. Why?
Well, for one thing, I can now assist at a properly-offered Novus Ordo each day and at least for the time-being, will not be subjected to Improv at the Altar. I can get to Adoration every day, too and I have a choice of several chapels at which to do it. I don't have to rush from the dinner table (that was wreaking havoc on my system, believe me) to evening Mass because now I have the choice to go in the morning. I can keep my house in the kind of order I like and I can prepare an evening meal that my family looks forward to eating, with leftovers for school lunches. I can go to the market in the morning, listen to beautiful Gregorian chant while I go about my work in the house, and I can feed the birds and walk the dogs.
These should not be luxuries in life, but to me, they are, because I've only ever had rare glimpses of them.
Also, I can't help but think of the timing as fortuitous so far as the election of Pope Francis was concerned. I didn't have to find out about it via text message or clandestine computer screen at work. I could watch it from the comfort of my living room, and then have the time and the ability to go before the Blessed Sacrament and offer prayers for the new pontiff.
Most of all, I am able to spend these final days of Lent as I like. When I was working, it seemed almost assured that I would not be able to sign up for a single Holy Hour at my parish's Forty Hours Devotion. Then, just like that, I was free to fill in all the hours no one else wanted. Just me and the Lord in a beautiful but empty Church save for Him and me. Now, when I go to Adoration every day (and when I often find Him all alone) I am not so pressed for time that I have to pray for someone to come in a relieve me. If no one else comes in, I have nowhere pressing to be except right there, in front of Him.
I have never prayed so much in my life, I don't think, nor have I had as many intentions for which to pray.
My son, who was not blessed with all 4 cylinders like the rest of us, will ask me for money every Friday, and every Friday I've had to tell him there is none. Kids don't like to hear that sort of thing.
"You have none? What do you mean you have none? Can't you just take some out of the ATM?"
I explained that I am conserving what money we do have for necessities, just in case this "hiatus" turns into something more lengthy.
The other day I caught the youngest counting her cash under the covers.
"What are you doing?"
"Just seeing how much I have, in case we really are poor. Are we poor?"
This is when I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. How do people with running water, functioning electricity, cable, internet, gas heat, a roof over their heads and a hot meal every night have the nerve to think they are poor?
I pat her on the head and tell her she has no idea what poverty really looks like. "You should never mistake frugality for poverty," I tell her. "Our dogs eat better than many people in this world."
I believe this bit of misfortune, if you can call it that, was directed by the Hand of God. Here are just some of the reasons why:
1. For some time now, He has been calling me to a different kind of life, but one which has been hampered by my profession. Now, it seems He has forced my hand to try a different approach. And I think He knew I desperately needed a rest. When you contract one illness after another and have to drag yourself to work, it could be your body is trying to tell you that enough is enough and it's time to make some serious changes.
2. He wants me to take account of my life and see all the extraneous matter that is bogging me down, even though I don't realize it is. Mind you, I wear a winter coat that has reached its 20th birthday and have a minimal wardrobe that causes my oldest, a stunning beauty in her own right, to cringe. ( "Please, STOP trying to look like a nun". She has no idea.) No, it's not the clothes to which I refer, it's the other stuff - the cell phones, the take-out meals, shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joes instead of someplace cheaper, taking country rides and burning gas, owning two cars when with a little bit of strategy we could get away with owning one - those are the extraneous things of which I'm speaking.
3. He really wants me to think about how the way I've spent the last 8 years of my career have taken a toll on my health and my marriage. Whether you manage a CVS, a 5-star restaurant, or an operating room the way I have these past years, the stress is the same - you are responsible for everything and everybody and expected to be available all the time, no matter what. That is no way for a mother and wife to live. Why didn't I realize that and do something about it sooner? Better late than never, He says. Now is the time to act.
4. Why is my cross so heavy anymore, and why does it seem to get heavier? With amazing clarity, before Him in His Monstrance I clearly understood: I have not just been carrying my cross, I have been carrying my spouse's cross as well. The result is that I'm dragging both of them. And this has not helped my spouse to spiritually progress. This break in the work action has afforded me more time to spend with my spouse and to see some things I had overlooked, like how alarmingly bad his memory is and what he does during the day when no one is around. I'm not exactly playing drill sergeant but I am holding him to a more healthy regimen, for both of us as well as our marriage.
5. Lack of sleep combined with the frustration of limited time for daily Mass and prayer and a job that was demanding nearly 60 hours of my time each week was also taking a toll on my marriage and my relationship with my kids. Last week, my son, in his inimitable style, said to me: "Mom, how come since you're not working anymore your face is prettier?" Good question, son.
6. I didn't form the best foundation for my marriage and my family by taking on so much of the load. When I first got married, my mother-in-law, God rest her soul, pulled me aside and told me: "You do too much for your husband. Don't make the mistake I did. Let him figure some things out for himself or you'll be doing everything for him, including the things that are his to do." How I wish I had listened harder. On Monday, I accompanied my husband to a medical appointment and was appalled at how he floundered with even the most basic things, like signing in for registration, etc. I have a prayer book to St. Raphael that I often like to read and one of the meditations has to do with a man and a woman each having their own role in a marriage, and how if the wife takes on that which is the domain of the husband, she will soon find herself doing his job and hers. This is not good for either one of them, and I know this first-hand. Like the laborers who arrive late to the vineyard, there is still time to reverse course.
7. I like to believe that as much as I missed Him, Jesus missed me even more. While I know He was always with me, it's not the same as being able to sit with Him in adoration. Maybe, just maybe, the message here is that my most important work that I can do right now is pray and that it's time to find a way to pay the bills around that commitment.
8. Finally, I think the message is that as much as I think I lean heavily on God, I still rely too much on myself to progress and not enough on Him. When you are brought low, you sometimes have no choice. You are left devoid of pride in even the simplest things. And you learn what a nothing you really are and that whatever worth you do have is rooted solely in Him.
Anyway, the election of Pope Francis, with his love for the poor and his affinity for simplicity and humility, could not have come at a better time for me. I was thinking back to the movie The Nun's Story when Sister Luke is confronted with having to give up the pen to which she is so attached. I was trying to think if I owned anything to which I was so attached and I couldn't think of a single thing. No reason to pat myself on the back because in the "poor in spirit" category, I would get an F. Before Mass even began yesterday, I committed at least 3 sins against charity. I was provoked, to be sure, but if I can't even sit through Mass without a sin in thought, word or deed, I have serious work to do.
So, the next time one of my kids asks me "are we poor?" I think my answer should be this:
We are not poor enough