Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are We Poor Enough?

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


  1. What a beautiful post, Joyce. If I weren't seeing double with fatigue, I would say something with more substance. I tried but it came out all jumbly.

    1. Thanks Kelly, it doesn't read as coherently as it could but I think I got across the general idea.

  2. I'm sorry about your job, there is an awful lot of that happening these days, something hanging over my head too as companies review what departments are necessary and where the work will be performed. You have the right attitude to get through this, it's not a temporary thing, you have to reevaluate how you live and what is and is not necessary.

    We have had to do this over the past 4-5 years as my husband had to close his business leaving us with little to no savings. We're down to bare bones- no credit cards, no car payments but a large house payment with business debt attached. It is amazing all the things you can give up and never, ever miss them. I don't think I would accept a credit card ever again.

    We too have a wedding coming up but thank goodness my daughter is of the same mindset as we are and wants an extremely simple wedding. I saw a lovely wedding in Mary Jane's Farm magazine where everything was homemade or second hand, including the vintage mis-matched dinnerware which was then redonated to a thrift shop that supports the less fortunate. The event should focus on the vows rather than the party.

    You'll be fine although there may be times you start to doubt. It all works out the way it should. I'll remember you and your family in prayers, as always.

  3. Thank you for sharing Kathy, you are right about giving up things that you don't miss. Then you (I) ask myself why I ever bothered with such things to begin with. My daughter is also having a simple wedding but it's still a daunting task, so I just deal with one small aspect at a time. We will get through this and I will keep you and Bob and your family in my prayers as well.
    Love and prayers

  4. See how much God loves you? What?

    Hope that made you smile.

    When I was little we - my family - were on welfare because my dad was in and out of jail and both parents were 'drinkers'. I was alawys impressed with St. Francis and wanted to be poor like him, so I said as much one night at supper, "I wish we were poor!" I got slapped across the room.

    I learned what perfect joy was early on too.

    Hope that made your smile bigger!


    Terry ;)

  5. Yes, Terry, you did make me smile, and even though I know your childhood was not an easy one, it's clear you were given special graces by God to endure and emerge as you have. Anyway, call me a fool but this latest trial really does prove to me how much God loves me.

    BTW, I saw an interview with an Argentinian Franciscan on EWTN tonight who talked about when Pope Francis was still Cardinal Bergoglio and was presented with a couple who wanted a Jewish man to be their child's godfather. After meeting with the cardinal, the Jewish man was convinced that he, too, should be baptized, and so both the godfather and the child were christened on the same day. I think we will see many more edifying moments like that one in the days and hopefully years to come.
    God bless and thanks for the prayers,


  6. That is such an edifying story! Now he reminds me of Pius XII.



  7. Oh Joyce, what a brilliant blog. My prayers for you and the family, but at least there are some blessings there by being out of work. There would be similar blessings if I lost my job, I'm sure, but though the possibility exists I'd rather not find out. I don't know if you saw my second blog ("One More Note On The New Pope") but he truly is a blessing. It's what the Catholic Church very much needed.

    1. Yes Manny, it is something we'd rather not find out and perhaps if I'm still not working 6 months from now and we're closer to exhausting our meager savings, I might feel differently. But I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth right now and just take it moment to moment.

  8. Oh Joyce, I just noticed on your blog role you included my blog. Thank you! God bless.

  9. Joyce, Having read your blog for a while now, I read this with with deep empathy knowing how you've been longing for this time with the Lord. How He sometimes gets us to the desire of our hearts is the stuff great stories are made yours.

    What a complicated vocation we have in marriage and motherhood...and I have been guilty of many of the things you chronicle here as well.
    You are in my prayers perhaps more now than ever.
    Love and Blessings +

    1. Caroline, thank you for your prayers and heartfelt commentary. St. Therese believed that the final years of her father's life, though he suffered, were a gift directly from God's hand. I can see where from every trial we've endured some fruit came forth that no one expected. This trial is no different, how ever more sobering it is.
      You are all in my prayers as well

  10. Joyce, what seems so wonderful to me is that you recognize and appreciate the gift hidden in the cross...the "riches" God is giving you, even though actual finances may be strained for awhile. The greatest gifts seems always wrapped in suffering.

    It is so true what you said about how we define "poor" in this country...while in other parts of the world, such a lifestyle would be envied :) We've been through unemployment a few times in our marriage, and I know we are the better for it. We really appreciate everything we have now, but we know we can be happy with less.

    How pleased God must be that you see this all as a gift! Thank you for remembering all of us in your now much extended prayer life :) God bless you, dear Joyce! xoxo

  11. Thank you Patricia, one of the "benefits" of this cross is that I now have no excuse for being cantankerous about visitors. Caroline may recall that I often joked I could never be a Benedictine because I am not fond of uninvited or unexpected guests. I meant to include this in my post but forgot so I am mentioning it now :)

    I have been allowing school chums to stay for dinner and have not raised a fuss, like when my brother-in-law "dropped in" a few Sundays ago. Perhaps if I practice these exercises in patience now I will have built up some conditioning for the time when I will eventually resume work.

    Anyway, when I read about families trying to survive on a pittance it does make me ashamed to think of what some might call our "embarrassment of riches". Still, the greater poverty that we need to adhere to is that of spirit, and I am working on it, with God's help.

    It is my pleasure to pray for all of you, because I know that you do the same for me.
    Love and more prayers,


Comments which reflect true Christian charity are always welcome. Comments which attack the Pope, the Church, priests or other bloggers will go in the dustbin, especially if they are anonymous. Thank you and God Bless you!