…apparently not. March 1 in Birmingham…
Yes, it snowed here last night and well into this morning. Was it predicted? I have no idea- I’d spent Thursday and Friday watching rain storms coming and arriving, and then slacked off the weather -watching which was Michael’s department anyway. (Once, early in our marriage, my father asked what he might get Michael for Christmas. “Well, I said thoughtfully, “He likes the weather.” And he did!) .
It’s very pretty and already melting – I was surprised that it stuck to the ground at all, but a good bit of did -although that around our apartment has been quickly scooped up into snowballs and snowpeople by lots of delighted children – and just as many adults. No electric outlet or monitor required. Just a surprise from the heavens.
Driving to church was interesting, not because of the snow, but because it was also very foggy. 10 AM Mass was maybe half full – and it is usually overflowing. Come on, people!
(Yes, yes, they’re not prepared for snow down here. But seriously – it wasn’t sticking to to roads – although it probably was in the hilly areas, of which there are many in this city.)
Around this time of year, conversations about sacrifice tend to increase, and in Catholic circles, we look that whole business of “offering it up” – that once common phrase and practice, not so frequently heard any longer.
Unless you’re me over the past three and half weeks.
You can find lots of articles discussing, justifying and explaining “offering it up” from a theoretical perspective.
I have no apologetics or extended argument to present today. All I have is gratitude.
Over the past weeks, I have been graced with innumerable gifts.
There have been very real concrete gifts of food and money. I’ve been sent gift cards to restaurants and grocery stores. I’ve received checks. And I am the awed recipient of a collection that the wonderful, already busy Danielle Bean organized, which collected enough money to pay for fully 2/3 of the funeral expenses.
How can I thank you? Danielle is going to be sending me the emails of those who donated through Paypal, so each of you will receive a note from me – as will those of you have emailed and sent cards. It will take a couple of months, but it will happen.
In addition to the financial assistance, every day, I have received word of a few more people praying for Michael and us – praying in various forms and ways.
Including offering it up.
Priests have offered Masses. Those going to Mass have offered their participation and prayer at Mass. People write saying that they offered their Communion for us. Rosaries. Holy Hours. An acquaintance wrote to say that she offered 6 hours of unmedicated childbirth labor for Michael’s soul. Two people are – and this just humbles me beyond words – offering their Lenten disciplines for Michael and for our peace.
And there are many more.
As I said, it is humbling. It is a reminder to me – a very strong reminder – to work towards being exponentially more generous in my own spiritual life. Why do I do what I do? What are my prayers for? Just for *me* and for the sake of my own personal journey? Or am I explicitly tying them into something more generous, more cosmic, more sacrificial?
Don’t ask me how it “works.” I don’t know. All I know is that once you accept the mysterious efficacy of prayer, it seems as if everything can be included, not just the words, “Lord, please help him.” It breaks open a whole new way of envisioning and living in this Body of Christ for me, and for that, too I am grateful.
And I can’t help but sense that it is bearing fruit for me. For us.
A reason why:
I have really been tortured – and that is not too strong a word – by an intense fear of death since my early teens. I have a vivid memory of the moment, when I was about thirteen years old, when the fact of my mortality struck me. I have struggled with this because I know that is not the way a Christian should be – but taking comfort in even St. Therese’s apparent fears before her death, and such.
I’ve always worked myself out of it intellectually – do I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that the disciples’ testimony is true? Yes I do. I mean – I really do. Then, I just keep thinking, walking along that road, logically, and I am eventually okay, placing my faith in Jesus, the reality of the Resurrection and my share in that – well, until the next time something hits me as I pass a cemetery, consider the obituaries or even consider the reality that in 50 years I’ll be gone and the world will turn without me and I won’t be journeying with my children on earth any more.
I was driving yeseterday morning and I realized something.
That fear is gone. I mean…GONE.
I even tried to get scared. I thought about my grave, about my body in a casket, about obituaries, about not being here to see, say, little Michael’s children (which is a possibility – I’m 48..he’s 4. Well naturally it’s a possibility anyway, no matter how old each of us are, as I have learned the hard way this month) if he has any…about not knowing, as my father said last summer, “how it all turns out” for everyone.
I thought about all the things that have, for 35 years, made me tremble with a fearful anticipation and a desire to avert my eyes and distract myself…
I tried. But none of it worked. I was totally at peace.
It wasn’t a Ghost and Mrs. Muir thing going on, where I imagined being with Michael again – although I do think about that at times, cautiously, not wanting to fall into wishful thinking. No, it wasn’t that.
It was really just this:
“Well, all right ” I thought. “Michael went on that road and he is okay – more than okay. I know it. I can go too because he led the way.”
It was odd and striking, somewhat expressive of our entire relationship and, I’m going to say to you, pretty much a miracle.
Who knows where it came from, who knows why. Ultimately God, of course – God’s grace. But working in those mysterious ways, through earthen vessels ready to be poured out, generously and sacrificially, moved by Love.
I am opening comments. I would like the conversation to be limited, if possible, to the idea of “offering it up.” Not arguing about it, necessarily, but simply discussing how it has worked in your lives.
One of the best ways to begin Lent is with the Holy Father’s message:
From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: “Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia – Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”
Later today, the Pope will preside at Mass at St. Sabina. A homily text will be available soon after, I hope.
Here is the Aggie Catholic mega post on Lent, with all kinds of good links.
If we are seeking to give shape to our Lenten spiritual practices, the best place to root ourselves is in what the Church gives us – the traditional disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and the prayer of the Church – the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. The best place to begin is at Universalis.com. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel exists. As Flannery O’Connor wrote to her friend “A:”
Anyway, don’t think I am suggesting you read the Office everyday. It’s just a good thing to know about, I say Prime in the morning and sometimes I say Compline at night but usually I don’t. But anyway I like parts of my prayers to stay the same and part to change. So many prayer books are awful, but if you stick with the liturgy, you are safe.
I would be remiss if I didn’t call your attention to Michael’s book The Power of the Cross and the podcasts he did based on the book for KVSS in Omaha – he certainly would be doing so if he were here, I don’t hesitate to point out! Our pastor wrote in our bulletin that it “reads like a novel,” and in a way, it does, for Michael was always just full of stories that he could connect, it always seemed to me, effortlessly.
My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.
More later. I have some things to share, but as usual, struggle to do so in a way that is most helpful to everyone.
I am off to pick up Katie at school and attempt Mass at EWTN – if we can’t get in the main chapel and are going to have to sit in the room next to the chapel and watch it on a screen…we’ll dash further down the road to another parish.
Several people have placed book orders with me over the past month. I should be able to start filling those next week. Thanks.
There is much going on and, you will not be surprised to know, a great deal of thought and emotion and prayer.
In the past two and a half weeks, I have filled two Muji notebooks and should be completely dehydrated from fluid loss at this point. I could write ten blog posts a day but that would be self-indulgent, and I think we all benefit more when this is a bit filtered. For example, if I had blogged the story below right after it happened, it would only have been half the story, as it turns out. Perhaps less than half.
Not that I am quite that purposeful about what I blog. I do not outline or plan what emerges here. It just happens. For what it’s worth.
I am still operating at a level of unreality. The whole thing still seems absurd and not right. But perhaps that is because death is absurd and not right, which is the point of Jesus making it right.
Last Tuesday, a memorial Mass in Michael’s honor took place at the Cathedral here. It was very nice, with lots of people in attendance – and remember Michael had only been here since June. He had made an impression.
It was also infused with that air of unreality for me. As in, I sat there through most of it thinking, Why am in the Cathedral in Birmingham, Alabama, listening to people say nice things about Michael who can’t be, but apparently is dead?
The bishop preached a homily that was substantive, Scripture-centered, focused and, I might dare to say, charming because in that homily he gave Michael due and affectionate credit for keeping him on track, reminding him to keep his preaching substantive, Scripture-centered and focused.
After Mass, after the reception, a person who had been attendance asked to see me. He had something he needed to tell me.
He had never met either Michael or me before, although he knew of us both. Since Michael had died, he had kept us in his prayers – all sorts of prayer.
He told me he had a message for me, and that he was certain this message was from God, for it had come to him during prayer, unbidden, out of the blue.
I gripped the desk. For this was truly a Michael moment. Michael who was fascinated by mysticism, who had taught discernment of spirits, who had interviewed purported visionaries on behalf of the Church, who could reel off a list of his own experiences of the transparency between here and eternity.
“Tell Amy,” this person said, “that Michael is watching out for her and that he says the answer is ‘yes.’ ”
He threw up his hands, as if to say, And so it is. I’m just the messenger. He repeated it. “That’s the message.”
The answer is yes.
But what was the question?
I pondered this, but tried not to overthink it. I tried to open myself to let the question be raised without too much input from me.
At first, I thought it was one thing – that came to me fairly quickly. Then a couple of days later, I thought it might be another.
Then today, we were sitting at Mass, and the second reading was proclaimed:
I swear by God’s truth, there is no Yes and No about what we say to you. The Son of God, the Christ Jesus that we proclaimed among you – I mean Silvanus and Timothy and I – was never Yes and No: with him it was always Yes, and however many the promises God made, the Yes to them all is in him.
I understood. I think I understood, for I can never be too definite about these things. But the conviction swept over me, and along with it, peace.
Michael knew me, and one of the things he knew about me was about my natural tendency to skepticism and my struggle with doubt. He knew that, for example, this is one of the reasons I am so affected by the work of Pope Benedict. His work reflects a familiarity with doubt.
Lord help my unbelief.
It was sort of a joke between us – him calling me to task for my skepticism, for my overthinking. A skepticism which is not a desire that these things be false or a seeking to disprove, but a yearning for definitiveness, for the experience of certainty that touches more than my intellect. I have experienced this certainty at times – rare times – but I will freely admit that while I actually find the intellectual claims of theism and Christianity convincing, something always still nags. A hunger, I suppose, for a full embrace of Love.
And the answer is yes.
You may discount it if you wish. Feel free. I hesitate to even write this, but not too much. I will not overexplain, but the way everything about these experiences almost three weeks ago now, last week and today knit together, I am certain what the question is. It is my question. My essential question, which Michael knows very well.
And he says that the answer is Yes.