One of the ways in which I know God is trying to talk to me is when I see or hear the same message over and over and over and over again. I say that He is ‘trying’ to talk to me because often times it takes a good smack upside the head for me to pay attention. He is, however, always there and always speaking to each and every one of us.
The message to me of late has been about ‘grace’. As I look back in recent times, I see moments where the idea and concept of grace is placed in front of me on several different occasions, but in my infinite stubbornness – I refuse to acknowledge or see them.
The trend started with my husband noting – repeatedly – that everything is grace. As a wife, I – of course – thought, ‘Yeah, yeah honey… everything is grace. Pass the peas please.’
God, however, was trying to make a point and I wasn’t seeing it so He spoke a little louder by having one of our sessions of ‘Catholicism’ by Fr. Robert Barron speak about the ‘Communion of the Saints’ of which my biggest takeaway was that the saints were virtually overflowing with grace. It was a beautiful reminder of His intention for ALL of us to become saints in our lives here on Earth.
The Catholicism session may have been a reminder, but apparently I *still* wasn’t getting the message so He spoke a little louder and sent me on a 24 hour retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary. It was their very first retreat here in Central Texas and I knew virtually nothing about it until after I registered and even then I was still fairly in the dark only looking up where the retreat center was the morning of the day I was to drive to it and discovered it to be much further away from home than I had thought! I had received the agenda only a day or two before the retreat was to take place and discovered that it was to be centered around the theme of – you guessed it – grace!
While on the retreat, each of the women were given a little gift from the Sisters. It was a sheet of paper on which a particular virtue was written. They had given them to each of us with the idea that we could meditate on them for the next 24 hours we would be together, or even for the entire Advent season. The little sheets of paper were all placed in a basket and passed around among the women who had been told that they could either search for a virtue in which they knew they were struggling, or perhaps leave it up to the Holy Spirit. Working hard to let God be in the driver’s seat, I decided to it be a Holy Spirit moment and closed my eyes and picked my paper out of the basket. My virtue – meekness. I am an organized control freak to put it politely. I knew that the Holy Spirit was calling on me in a big big way. That little sheet of paper which may have seemed like such an ‘insignificant’ gift may have been one of the best gifts I have ever received. It serves for me a constant reminder of my need to trust in God and His will.
Over the weekend, Sr. Maria noted that
God gives us enough grace in each and every day to become a saint.
Tonight I had a beautiful example of God’s grace and my need to focus on meekness – as well as the way in which we are able to see God’s unending and merciful love in a lighthearted and humourous way as we accept the grace that he unceasingly bestows upon each and every one of us.
This evening our Parish held out Advent Reconciliation Service. As we arrived at the Church I had an organized Mom moment and thought that we should find a place close to the one of the confessionals as we arrived so that when the mad rush to line up for the various Priests scattered around the Sanctuary took place we would already be seated in a primo spot and would be in line! ‘Brilliant’, I thought. God, however, had His own ideas. And I’m pretty sure he was looking at me and thinking of that slip of paper I’d received this weekend with the word ‘meekness’ on it – and laughing. Not in a spiteful way, but in a knowing and fatherly way that said ‘Oh, my dear, how quickly you forget.’
As the various Priests were introduced and our Pastor noted where they would all be located, I realized very quickly that he went through the entire list and didn’t say who would be in the confessional to which I had so ‘brilliantly’ placed my family. No, he hadn’t said it would be because there would be no Priest in our confessional. A name was posted on a sign on the window, but that name had not been called and was clearly not going to be there. This, of course, led to a mad dash across the Sanctuary to get to another line… and hopefully a short one. The one that I *thought* was short had nine people ahead of us. Because I am ‘organized Mom’, I did the math in my head and estimated that it would be on average between 5-10 minutes per confession – leaning more toward the 10 minute average which would see us there for roughly an hour to an hour and a half. Of course, there were several behind us in line – so we wouldn’t be last.
During the course of our waiting, I spent time reading and also reassessing my calculations regarding how long we would be waiting.
‘There are many young people ahead of us in line. They don’t like to be in there very long.’ I thought. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so long after all. I looked around the Sanctuary at the other lines and saw people who had come into the service late and were already in the pews praying their penance.
‘Ugh’, I thought, ‘I was here first.’
I realized as I stood in line that, while I had just been to confession on Friday, I might build up enough sins just standing in line with my children to be able to have enough to confess again myself! As the evening progressed and the lines got shorter, people bounced from line to line trying to find the one that would move the most quickly. I, of course, didn’t pick quite so well. People behind us left our line and moved to shorter lines. They came back after their confession and told those still waiting behind us that they had already made their confession and fulfilled their penance. Even my daughter jumped ship for a faster moving line with her friends.
In the end, it came down to my son and I and one other person in line behind us. I noted to her that there was still a Priest in another room nearby and that while he was with someone at that moment, there was no one waiting. She noted that she really wanted to see the specific Priest for whom we had been waiting in line.
In went my son in front of me. Then I went in. My son was very patiently waiting for me when I finished. My husband and my daughter had left a little earlier as she had homework to do and I didn’t want her to have to wait around needlessly and then be up late.
As I picked up my books and purse off the floor where my son had been sitting, I looked up and out around the Sanctuary. It was empty. Absolutely and completely empty. I saw one other Priest who was getting up from his spot and getting ready to leave. As I stopped and looked around, I laughed. I saw the humour in God’s gift to me.
I had spent the early part of the evening ‘planning’ for how we would get in and out of there quickly and easily. Didn’t happen. I then spent my time in line feeling frustrated and trying to figure out how long we would be there. For the record, we were there longer than I had anticipated. The Service ended at about 7:25 and we left at roughly 7:20. We had waited for two hours.
There is a saying that goes like this:
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
Tonight’s experience couldn’t have been a more perfect example of this idea. I envisioned God above looking down and chuckling at me thinking, ‘You just don’t get it do you? You are NOT in control.’
As I stood in line with my two children – both of whom were incredibly patient – I began reading ‘The Better Part’ written by John Bartunek LC. Its a wonderful book on prayer. On one of the pages he notes
Mass media stimulates the surface of the mind, but the constant rapid flow of images and information militates against going deeper. Meditation provides a respite from frenzied mental stimulation and gives the soul a chance to simply love and be loved in the intimacy of spiritual embrace.
I thank God for the many graces He provides including the the many reminders of where He is calling me to listen and grow, and especially for the opportunity provided through the retreat to stop, slow down, listen and be willing to receive His unlimited supply of graces – and then through His love and mercy this evening give me that gentle and light-hearted reminder that I need to carry over what I learned while on retreat to my day to day life.