This holy season always seems to have two sides…the joyful celebration of our Savior’s Incarnation…and the darkness of the season. There are tragedies and hardships all around us…death, grief and sickness. We struggle to see the Light at times.
I thought about this when we lost beloved pets during Advent. And then the kids got sick just before Christmas. It has been something like this…
One child begs for another popsicle to ease her burning throat. She let the last one melt into a puddle. Meanwhile, the other child sits at the counter, coughing. He is staring at the stack of books he is supposed to be reading during this break from school. But he can't seem to turn the page. His eyes are glazed over. We call this Day Five of the Sickness.
My writing projects are on hold. Today I am not a Working Writer. I am Nurse, Nag and Comforter. "Please drink your water. You'll feel better tomorrow. Time to take your medicine. Go to bed now." The phrases are repeated over and over. I feel my mind turning into Sickness Soup--no longer creative or focused. I am not aware of anything but the demands of the moment.
These kind of days remind me that I (that's the Big I of ego) am not in charge. God is in charge of this world and my life. He holds the bigger vision. He knows what can be learned from these days set apart from the usual routine. He can truly heal all of us.
The roles of Nurse, Nag and Comforter are perfected in the example of the Holy Family, who set the model for our parenting roles.
• Nurse--God promised to heal the nation of Israel--"I will restore you to health and heal your wounds." (Jer. 30:17) And then He sent a Savior and Redeemer for the entire world.
• Nag—The angel came to Joseph again. Now he had a brand new family and he was hoping to return to their home and his regular work. But instead he was told to flee into a foreign land. He did as he was instructed. And Mary did not argue. She did as she was instructed. When Jesus grew into boyhood and was missing, His parents scolded Him and Jesus promised obedience.
• Comforter--The Psalms are filled with references to the Comfort we will find in God's arms. And our Christmas carols announce Glad Tidings of Comfort and Joy. In spite of hardships, the image we have of the Holy Family is one of peace. They gave each other support.
I am glad to have the opportunity to experience these roles of Nurse, Nag and Comforter. We are perfected during times of stress.
Dear Lord, please be with me as I go about the roles you have ordained for me today. Help me to learn the lessons of the Days of Sickness.
St. Bernard once wrote a homily as if he were talking to Mary who had just heard from the angel Gabriel. The gospel says, “Mary was greatly troubled by his words (of praise for her.)” Here is my version…
I understand you’ve been visited by an angel whose message is quite unsettling. I can imagine so! You are being asked to step into the unknown and face great hardships. With the message you have just received, your future is suddenly shrouded in mystery. You must already sense the intensity that is to come…as if stepping into a fire.
But please say “yes” to this next part of your life…It means saying “yes” on behalf of the whole world. Your “yes” must certainly inspire any woman who is uncertain about becoming a mother. You are young. Your baby will be born in a stable and then you will be fleeing persecution. Suddenly homeless and hiding in a foreign land…these are not easy things for a new mother. And yet those are only the first of the many trials awaiting you.
But your “yes” means a new beginning for all of life. So much depends on you. Thank you for being willing to step forward into the darkness of the unknown in order to bring Light into the world.
I, too, am a mother. so I understand a tiny bit of the unknowns you face. When I realized I was pregnant, I was worried about the future. These are hard times for children and for marriages. The pressures on the family are intense. And I had no idea back then that motherhood is so hard!
After my children started school, I thought I had it “all figured out” about how to be a mother! The tantrums had stopped and the children started to be successful in many things. I’m with them a lot and we have tried to pass on a strong faith. Yet, they are still tempted by worldly glitter. How do I help them resist the temptations of the world as they become more independent? How do I help them walk on the narrow path when all around them there is immodesty, self-gratification and self-absorption?
I’d like to know that it will all turn out all right. I’d like to see into the future to be sure my actions lead to good outcomes. But that is one of the lessons from your “yes” isn’t it? You gave your life to God as a servant, a “handmaid.” It means surrendering the ego while acting according to the guidance you receive. It means rusting in your Son who promised to stay with us.
Do you think if I made more room for Him in my heart, I might feel His guiding presence, too? Here’s what I’m thinking…if you say “yes” to the angel, in order to bring salvation into the world, I should be able to say “yes” to more humility, more trust and more prayer.
To give birth means letting a new life come through our bodies. It is awe-inspiring to participate in such a venture. I rejoice with you in this miracle.
Ah! I hear your “yes” now. It echoes through the ages. Did you grow in courage and wisdom with that one tiny word? I can almost see it in your face. You are accepting and embracing all that is to come…there will be wonders and wounds, joys and trials. Let it all come as it will. This journey is in God’s hands.
“I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy Word.”
When I attended Catholic schools, a LONG time ago, we were required to print the letters “J. M. J.” on the top of every page before we began to write. It was meant to remind us to pray to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for help.
Although it became a writing habit, more than a prayer, it a lovely idea. J. M. J. help me in this work. I dedicate this page to you.
I was thinking about this invocation to the Holy Family, as the Advent season unfolds with new challenges at our house. There have been animal deaths and computer problems. Lots of ending and opportunities for new beginnings.
Just a couple weeks before the new year in the church calendar began, Brigit’s barnyard cat was hit by a car. Then right after that her indoor cat, Doe-Re-Mi, started howling in pain. We rushed Doe to the vet in the middle of the night only to be told that our singing cat had a string wrapped around her intestines. The cost for surgery would start at $900 and was likely to be closer to $1500. The cost for our nighttime visit was already $200.
At home we faced costly computer problems and a greatly reduced income. We couldn’t spend that kind of money.
Brigit, age 11, held the limp cat in her arms as we talked about the decision we had to make. Our animals are important to us here at Sagging Acres. We love our cats, dogs, goats, horses, donkey, chickens, roosters and ducks. But animals are not humans with an immortal soul. It was a distinction we now had to discuss for the first time in my young daughter’s life.
If Brigit had been holding a child instead of a cat, we would clearly spend every dollar, go into debt and take every action. But our cat, though she was precious to us and we desperately wanted to save her, was not a child. And we had to make the right decision for our family’s health and well-being.
We prayed together. This was a difficult moment for me. How much more so for an 11-year-old…
Brigit took in three pregnant, feral cats 18 months ago and was very responsible about finding homes for the kittens and getting the adult cats spayed and neutered. But two cats stood out in this group. One was Sox, a male cat who greeted us every morning as we walked out to the barnyard. He was killed as he tried to cross the road in front of our house. Then there was the kitten, who seemed to respond to lilting sounds. Brigit would sing, “Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti…” And the kitten ended the song, on pitch, with, “Doe!”
We brought this calico kitten inside the house. She became famous for singing, diving into laundry baskets and for using the bookcases as mountain-climbing exercise. We have 22 bookcases which provided her with a lifetime of scaling experience and gave her the opportunity to send lots of pretty knick-knacks crashing to the floor.
Now, we stood over a cold, steel table, with our singing cat hunched around her distended stomach. She was an independent cat who only seemed to “tolerate” being held by humans. But now, for one instant, as the needle came down that would end her life, Doe-Re-Mi looked up at us in love. She seemed to say, “Thank you for a good life.”
These were just two of the endings that preceded this Advent. Now we start over. The season of Advent calls us to renew our commitment to virtue. Not simply to prepare for the birthday of Jesus, but to prepare for His Second Coming. Then we will be judged for all the decisions we make. So we pray that the decision we made about Doe was the right one.
As human beings we are made in the image of God. Our souls distinguish us from the animals we care for. That means we are called to respect human life in a most special, sacred way. We are also called to be stewards of creation and to extend respect, love and care to all of God’s amazing creatures.
I hope Brigit will feel blessed by the time we had with our special cat friends and to entrust them now to God’s merciful care.
During this holy season, we begin again to renew our lives under the guidance of the Holy Family. J. M. J. I offer you this page in our family history. Strengthen our family and all families. Amen.