The Other Side of the Coin

So . . . let’s talk about the idea of prayer.  That’s right, I want you to think about praying.  Not so much whether or not to do it.  And not so much which prayers to pray at any given time.  Not even so much about the quality of your prayers.  Or whether you pray out loud, silently, slowly, or as quickly as you have breath for . . . that’s all in the Up-to-You category as far as I’m concerned.  Well, you and The Big Guy.

What I want to know is how you address your prayers.  How you approach them.  Mmm.  Let’s try this:  Do you go through your prayers for the same reason the chicken crossed the road?  To get to the other side? 

Is  it something that’s in the way of other, more important things you actually have to do?  That’s the way it has been for me.  Sacred Scripture says it’s important – so I do want to do it.  But.  Well.  This other – stuff – is really important.  It’s the reason I finally decide to get out of bed in the morning.  It’s my goal – you know, my Goal for the Day.  Whether I do this stuff well, whether I complete this job, determines the kind of day I’ll have had.  If I’ve finished doing this stuff, and done it well, tonight I’ll be able to slide between the sheets with a sigh of satisfaction.  If I haven’t quite finished it, or if I had to rush through it . . . well, then . . .  tonight when I shove myself between the sheets, it will be with a groan of frustration – it’s been a bad day.  I hate bad days; I want to have as few of them as possible.

You know what I’m talking about, right?  This stuff is not just on my To Do List, it is on my Must Do List.  And it takes time and energy.  Yeah.  Thing is, prayer takes time and energy, too.  So, sometimes – not all the time – but sometimes everything for the day comes down to a matter of priorities.  I.  Have.  To do.  This.  Stuff!  My family depends on me doing it.  Praying’s important.  I’ll give you that.  But maybe a quick Hail Mary is OK this time.  I’ll do better tomorrow.  But.  You know – this is Life.

Then something really weird happened to me; not spooky weird, but kinda “Oh, Gosh” weird.  It was as if I suddenly understood, with my mind and my heart, just how important prayer is.  I knew; I actually knew I could pray for a really long time; I don’t know, like an hour, and still be that chicken crossing the road.  Just to get to the other side.  At the same time – this is the weird part – I also knew; actually knew that whether I pray out loud, silently, slowly, or as quickly as I have breath for . . .  that that’s not ITIT is whether I approach  prayer as something that has value in and of itself;  whether it is on my Must Do List.  If it’s on my List, then it is something I DO rather than something I get through.  It’s something that determines the kind of day I’ll have had.

Would you think I was crazy if I told you that prayer is now the thing I like doing best?  You see, it’s not in the way of my Life anymore.  And it’s no longer something I skate through with the least amount of effort and time.  It’s something I DO.  Some days it’s a bit of a chore to get started.  Then I remind myself that prayer is not a Side Hussle, it is the alpha and omega of my day.  The rest of the stuff?  It comes along, it gets done.  Somehow, there is time and energy for that, as well. 

It’s like those drawings that are really two pictures in one.  Look at it one way, it’s a vase. Look at it another way, it’s a couple of faces . . .   

Now that you’ve seen both pictures, you can’t ever go back to seeing just one of them.  Something’s clicked in your mind, in your perception of reality, and it can’t ever be undone.

Don’t be a chicken . . .  Stare at the idea of praying for awhile, listen for that click in your brain … the one where, for the very first time, you put the Kingdom of God in your day – first and last.  And all that very important stuff will fill in the cracks and spaces around it, and it will all fit.  For the very first time in your life.

3 Aug 2022

Ms. Catherine Lambert, OP

The Better Part

Sunday, 17 July 2022

By Ms. Catherine Lambert, OP

                This Sunday’s readings are about “A Message”.  In the First Reading, the angel of the Lord (or the Lord himself) came to the man Abraham.  Abraham had stepped out for God, he’d made that proverbial leap of faith and left everything he knew behind.  That day, Abraham and Sarah were made a promise:  Within a year, they would be visited again and they would be able to show off their own son.  Abraham trusted, believed the divine promise.  But Sarah despaired of ever having children and, in Genesis 18:12, not a part of today’s Reading:  Sarah laughed.  Do you suppose she laughed for joy at hearing she would finally bear a son; or was her laugh drenched in bitterness, knowing she would not?  Who chose ‘the better part’?  Abraham or Sarah?

                Sometimes we don’t know what ‘the better part’ might be.  Then, sometimes God pierces the mystery and pours the very answer into the laps of the most unlikely of people.  St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, explains that the answer to the Mystery of the Ages is that Christ is among them . . . among us.  In that day, not all chose ‘the better part’, but many did.

                Life can be so distracting, shifting our attention this way and that.  Jesus’ friend Martha found this out one day.  She fretted about her duty to hospitality.  Abraham had done the same, rousing his household to quickly, quickly provide for the unexpected guests.  Hospitality was of great consequence and both Abraham and Martha knew that many little details needed to be put into play in order to do it well.  Jesus was important – Martha knew – and she so wanted to do it well for him.  But her sister – lazy girl – did not help her.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, as close as she could get, and was attentive to the only thing that was needed.  Martha cried out for help to do her will for Jesus; but Mary chose ‘the better part’, she chose to do Jesus’ will for her.

                Jesus was proud of Mary’s decision, but loved Martha no less.  He gently admonished Martha, pointing out her error.  What do you suppose Martha did then?  Do you think she scurried off to get refills for her honored guests?  Or do you think she dried her hands, put her towel down – rather thoughtfully – and joined her sister at the feet of Jesus? 

                What about us?  We’ve learned the answer to the Mystery of the Ages – we’ve learned that Jesus Christ is among us.  What do we do with that information?  Do we still bow to the gods of our time:  to a full schedule, to responsibilities to others, to an inflated sense of self?  Or, do we choose . . . The Better Part?

31 Dec 2021

                I nearly died – a couple of months ago – from a really bad case of COVID.  No, I didn’t get the vaccine.  It bothered me that the tissue of an aborted or miscarried fetus was used to develop and test at least some of these vaccines, and I dithered one way and the next, trying to find a valid reason to either get the vaccine or not.  I must admit that one of my core traits came into play as well:  procrastination.  It wasn’t two weeks after talking to my doctor about the pros and cons of the vaccine that I contracted COVID.

                I wasn’t just stay-in-bed sick… I was have-your-son-take-you-to-the-hospital sick.  By the time I got to the hospital (the wrong one at first since I get my medical care through the Veterans Admin.) I was so sick I couldn’t stand up – could barely sit up in the wheelchair in which they brought me in.  They asked me, “Do you have pain?”

                “Yes.”

                “Do you have a ‘booming’ headache?”  I wasn’t too sure what they meant by that, but ‘looking within’, I did discover that my eyeballs and eardrums were swelling and shrinking in time to my labored heartbeat. 

                “Yes!” 

                “Okay, just wait here.”

                Finally they shuffled me into an ambulance and drove me the two miles to the Veterans’ hospital.  They stuffed me into a tiny room which evidently hadn’t been used in a while:  I made this determination after one of the nurses said, “What is wrong with this bed?  I can’t get it to go down!”  Then, glory of glories, two things happed which gave me the greatest relief:  They hooked me up to oxygen – I could finally catch my breath (and my snot bubbles dried up) and; they carefully led me to the bathroom – no need to explain the relief I got from that.  Then they placed me in an adult diaper and tucked me in.

                I was in the hospital for twelve days, getting the tiniest bit better each day.  At first I was given what I later found out was a massive amount of ‘heated, high-flow oxygen’.  It basically came blasting through my canula, forcing oxygen into my poor lungs even when I was exhaling.  (It worked and later I was weaned down to the amount of oxygen that could be handled by a home oxygen concentrator.)

                Then there was the food – but that was actually pretty good!  My favorite was the ‘hamburger’ which looked, smelled, and tasted nothing like a hamburger – but was really good.  I did my best to be a ‘good’ patient – being polite to everyone who came into my room and even writing little ‘thank you’ notes to the kitchen crew on the menu selection sheet for the next day.  The kitchen liked my notes so much that I started getting ice cream along with breakfast!  Not a usual selection.

                On the second or third day, I texted my Dominican sisters and brother to tell them what was going on.  Rene texted back right away.  She reminded me that I really should have the Anointing of the Sick.  (Didn’t they used to call that Last Rites?  Huh.) 

                I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of dying.  I wasn’t afraid (strange that my greatest fear about dying is being afraid).  I wasn’t regretful or sad.  I was, I think, just… waiting.  That night, my respiratory therapist told me with great enthusiasm, “You’re going to make it!  I know you’re going to make it!  Do you know why?  Because you want to live!”  I want to live?  That was news to me.  Though not burdened with dire trials as many are, I had never relished living.  I remember as a teenager, looking at an old, tottering, white haired woman.  I envied her… because she was so much nearer ‘the end’ of all this than I was.  Of course God could always throw a bus at me any time and I would happily precede even those on their death beds.  I had, I think, kind of felt like St. Paul  – you know the verse: 

For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.  If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose.   I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better.  Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary…  (NABRE, Phil 1:20-24a)

                I texted my parish priest and asked if he would Anoint me because I was pretty sick.  He was there within minutes of my text.  I can’t but admire him for coming – in truth, it was an act of bravery.  I was, of course, on the “COVID Floor” of the hospital – no visitors, you know.  He came in with a face mask on and those blue gloves instead of the ‘CDC space suit’.

                It was just us in my little room.  He pinched off the tip of his glove on his index finger and thumb.  He then opened a tiny jar with the holy oil in it.  The scent was so warm, subtle, and comforting!  He put some on the palms of my hands and my forehead and I just felt so relieved of all worries, I felt I didn’t have to struggle any more… I just had to rest and wait with the mildest of curiosities, to see how things would turn out.  I share with you now the fruits my my contemplation.  I thought, ‘Huh.  I guess I really do believe this stuff.’ 

                It may not sound particularly profound, but like all of us, I have my faith, but I also have my doubts.  They’re like potholes in the road.  Some of them I see and avoid, but a significant number sort of sneak under the tire and give you quite a jolt.  Okay, I would think, that’s a Doubt which I can neither prove nor disprove… therefore – it doesn’t matter.  Keep on driving.

                But this Anointing of the Sick thing showed me something I hadn’t realized before.   See, I had decided to believe all this Jesus stuff, this Catholic stuff.  I’d made up my mind.  But what haunted me was that I’d made decisions like this before… and been wrong.  I wasn’t sure I could trust my ‘gut instinct’ – but I’d decided and I was darn well going to follow through – but I’d been wrong so many times before, what made this decision any different?  That is where the tire meets the pothole!

                After being Anointed though – I ceased to doubt myself and my decision – it all just drifted away.  I hadn’t so much doubted the veracity of Jesus or even the Catholic Church… I had doubted my ability to make a true and good decision regarding them.  But my reaction to being Anointed was so smooth, so calming, and… right, that the pothole-doubts were just – there.  They were part of the road but not a part of me.  I could chunk through them or swish around them, it really didn’t matter.  They were just there.  I knew… I know what I believe and – thank God – I know that I really do believe it.

                What a relief.  If I have to live some more – though that bus could come flying through the air a squash me at any time – then this is the way to do it.  I somehow always knew that ‘… to die is gain…’ but now I truly know that ‘… to live is Christ… ‘.  And I’m okay with that.  At last.

Ms. Catherine Lambert, OP

The Visit

                She gazed at her left hand which was caressing her growing belly.  Such a study in contradiction, she thought.  This belly so smooth and taut beneath her plain work-a-day garment – the badge of a young woman with the first of many children within her; then there – her hand, swathed in unexpected blotches and wrinkles (she tugged her sleeve down a bit) – the badge of an old woman with few and dwindling years foreseen.

                She fretted, and was shamed that she should do so.  It had been said – there could be no doubt – that her son, John, would have a momentous future.  Yet she worried.  The babe had not stirred, had not pressed against his confines even once.  Could he . . . could her babe be merely waiting to be born for the grave?  Was he resting within her, or was he already d…

                “Zechariah!  Husband.  How are you today, my Love?”  His shoulders shrugged, his wise old hands out, palm up; well-known, well-loved lips tightened in a self-depreciatory half-smile.  Elizabeth’s thoughtful hand grasped his – gave it a reassuring squeeze.  He, with his free hand, gently patted her distended belly.  His eye was quizzical.  Elizabeth’s head drooped.  A tear fell, darkening the fabric obscuring the object in question.  “No.  Nothing . . . yet,”  Elizabeth forlornly admitted.  Zechariah’s age-smoothed, gentle fingers stroked her forehead with just a wisp of connection, lovingly tucked a stray lock of grey-lightened hair back under her head shawl.  His thumb passed beneath her damp eye and lingered on her cheek.

                “Elizabeth?” a soft, almost childlike enquiry, wary of intruding perhaps.  Elizabeth violently swayed sideways and back.  Zechariah frantically gripped her shoulders to keep her on her feet.  Alarmed, he hastily questioned her eyes with his own – What’s going on?!  Are you alright?!  Surprisingly, Elizabeth’s face was alight with joy!  ‘The baby!’ she mouthed, ‘Our John!’

                The sweet voice behind her, “Elizabeth, I’ve. . . I’ve come for. . . for a visit.  I thought I could be of some – help?”

                Elizabeth turned, Zechariah keeping a cautionary hand on her shoulder, “O Mary, sweet cousin!  Don’t question how I know, but . . . I do know.  It has been explained to me in the most wonderful way!”  Hands extended, she laughed.  Her son was rolling, and pushing, and kicking!  “Mary.  Mary, you are the most blessed of all women!”  Mary stepped back in astonishment as Elizabeth continued, “The fruit of your womb is blessed!”  Mary shook her head in puzzlement.  How could Elizabeth know – and Zechariah, too, standing behind is wife, holding her shoulders and grinning wide enough to display the missing tooth which he was always at great pains to conceal.  How could they know?  “I am a humble woman . . .”  Elizabeth glanced back and up at her dear husband, “We are just ordinary people!  How does this happen to me – to us?”  Mary’s eyes, no longer confused, were steady, serene, radiant. 

                “How does it happen, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Elizabeth giggled like the girl that Mary was.  “The moment – the very moment – the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped!  He.  He who had not yet moved to admit to life – he leaped for joy!”  Elizabeth approached Mary with a rolling gait as her John still cavorted within her.  She embraced Mary’s slight form and whispered with elation into her ear, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”

                Mary leaned away from Elizabeth’s embrace, yet held tightly to her hands with nervous fingers.  It was true then.  It hadn’t been a dream or a hallucination.  It was . . . True.  Mary drew in a deep breath.  Then her breath burst out in synchrony with Elizabeth’s.  They locked eyes, grinning and laughing in their shared joy.  Elizabeth’s son was alive!  And . . . the Messiah was on his way!

Ms. Catherine Lambert, O.P.

Incident at Jacob’s Well

God couldn’t have been happy with the split between the Southern Kingdom of Judah – ruled by Solomon’s heir and the Northern Kingdom of Israel – the rebellious majority who broke away and established their own kingdom.  The North . . . Israel . . . was indeed rebellious.  It would not consent to be ruled by Solomon’s heir, would not acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital, would not even worship the True God but degenerated into idolatry.  No.  God-the-Father could not have been happy with them at all.  And yet . . .

            I think that God-the-Son had a soft spot in his heart for the remnant of the Northern Kingdom – those left behind as the greater number was led into Assyrian exile.  There’s always a ‘remnant’, right?  Well, this remnant was not the ‘faithful few’ who often become the seed of a resurgence of worship and loyalty to God.  No; this remnant became the scorned Samaritans.  The  Assyrian exile had come and gone.  The staunch Southern Kingdom ended up molding generations Jews would rather walk m-i-l-e-s out of their way to avoid stepping foot in what was no longer the Northern Kingdom, but what had become the disparaged Samaria.  And yet . . .

            Jesus and the disciples were travelling, as they often did.  They came to the border town of Sychar.  Heading for Galilee, it was time to walk the wearying detour around Samaria.  However, despite the disciples’ sound advice to the contrary, Jesus not only stepped foot in Samaria, but actually rested on the lip of Jacob’s Well which was just on the edge of town. 

            While Jesus’ followers had been sent on into town to scare up something for them all to eat,  Jesus had a nice little chat with not just any Samaritan, but with a Samaritan woman.  A woman who even her fellow Samaritans agreed was ‘fallen’. . .

            The woman approaches the Well with an empty water jug on her right shoulder.  It’s not the usual time for getting one’s daily water – already it’s mid-day.  It’s staggeringly hot.  The sun pries at the woman’s eyes; she idly squints at her sandaled feet as they scuff up little puffs of dust with each tired step.  She’s not in a hurry.  Why should she be?  She’s wondering if it is worth the effort to cook an evening meal – her husband has not deigned to grace his home in two days.  Maybe he won’t come home tonight either . . . maybe he won’t ever come home.

            The woman rests her water jug on the Well’s rim.  There’s something not quite right, she thinks.  She narrows her eyes a bit more, trying the figure out what is different.  The sun is beating down on her head making a sharp, little pain over her left eye.  It’s hard to think . . . but . . .   there’s a shadowy silhouette upon the Well’s sun baked stones . . .  Someone must  be . . .  there’s never anyone here at this time of day!  That’s why she comes at this hour!  She knows right enough what she is . . . she doesn’t need to hear it shouted out by sundry and all.  Haltingly, she raises her sun-narrowed eyes.  Which of the village women is casting that shadow?  The one with the strident shriek that pierces her ears?  Or the one who says nothing but is dismayingly accurate with her spit?

            It is neither.  It’s a man.  He’s looking at her in no particular way . . . just looking.  Most unusual.  By his dress, he’s a Jew, one of those hated and hating people.  It’s a puzzle.  The man says to her, “Give me a drink.”  It’s not unusual for a man – for any man to make this demand . . . though his words are soft, gentle.

            “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”  She’d more expect a flung stone than a soft spoken request from any Jew.  It was a mystery. . . a curiosity which – as considerable as it seems now – becomes all the larger as the kindly man continues to speak with her.  By the conversation’s end, there is a catch in her chest.  She can hardly draw breathe! 

            Then she’s running, running in the stifling heat, the blinding light of the noonday sun.  She’ll tell someone . . . anyone!  There.  There is her husband-who-is-not-her-husband.  Somehow, she’s no longer angry with him.  She grabs his sleeve with urgent fingers.  “Come see a man who told me everything I have done!”  He starts to shake her off but is captured by the elation in her face.   “Could he possibly be the Messiah?” she asks.

            You know the story.  Sure you do.  Jesus and the boys stayed in Sychar of Samaria for a couple of days.  Jesus boarded at the woman’s house with her sometime husband hanging on his every word.  Of course, there wasn’t enough room for all of them there, so the rest were parceled out to the neighborhood; neighbors were amazed at the riveting conversation and cheerful comradery of these Jews.  The people became thoughtful – these rowdy men, these hard-faced women, these rough day-laborers and poor traders, these idolatrous, sinful people – as the man who told the woman at the Well all she had ever done, spoke to them . . . to them . . .  of the things of God and of the things soon to come.   Jesus was no respecter of persons – which is a funny way of saying that he respected everyone – equally. 

           The Northern Kingdom had been most thoroughly punished.  Those who were hauled off to Assyria made poor decisions.  They intermarried with the locals and disappeared as a people.  Those who had escaped being exiled became the hated and scorned dregs of Jewish society.  But God-the-Son (with his Father’s nod and the Spirit’s go-ahead) loved them anyway. . . loved them as his own – which, of course, they were.

by Ms. Catherine Lambert, O.P.

Death Insurance

            You’ve heard the joke, right?  You know, it goes like this:  All religion is, is Death Insurance!  You pay the premium, but when it’s time to make a claim . . . The Insurance Company is more than willing to pay up – but YOU are NO WHERE TO BE FOUND!  YUCK.  Yuck.  Yuck.

            Weird thing is – that’s not far wrong.  No, no.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to go all atheist on you.  But.  The fact of the matter is that Death is the Big Scary – and that’s for sure.  We don’t know what’s on the other side.  We think.  We hope.  We believe . . . then we hope some more. 

            But I say, “Why worry about it!”  It happens to us all – at least at this point in time (yeah, I do read sci-fi).  We’re going to go whether our Grand Exit is accompanied by organ music:  “duh-duh-duh – DUH!” or by a choir of angels:  “Ahhhhhhh . . . “

            Yup.  Yup.  Yup.  But that’s not really The Thing, is it?  It’s not so much how we are going to die or where we go after that (well, it sorta is).  It’s how we make our way there, don’t ya think?  We don’t need Death Insurance . . . we need Gettin’-Through-Life Insurance!  And Brother…  Sister…  do I have a policy for you!

Ms. Catherine Lambert, OP

Be Fair!

            Mama said . . . Mama said!  “Be fair to your brother, sister, cousin, friend (you fill in one one that Mama most often referred to).”  Be fair.  It’s probably the very first social law that any of us ever struggled with – starting at three and ending with a sharp realization around ten (give or take) when we notice with great indignation that Mama is not fair with us.  It evidentially has something to do with, “I’m the adult, you’re the child.  Do what I say!”  And that’s not fair.  Then Mama tells you something she kind of left out when you were three:  “Life is not fair.  Deal with it!”

            Deal with it?  Deal with it?  How do you deal with the end of an Era?  …with the death of all you thought was true?  But we do deal with it, don’t we? 

            So – an eon later, we’re bored and fidgeting at Mass.  “Sit still.  You only get from Mass what you’re willing to put into Mass!” says your brother, sister, cousin, friend, mama . . . spouse.  And that kinda makes sense, you think.  It clicks right into place with something you learned long ago.  Yeh.  It does make sense.  You only get back from Mass what you’re willing to put into it.  You like the sound of that – it seems fair. 

            So you join a prayer group.  Man!  That feels great!  Let’s do some more . . . You join a service group that collects gently used baby and kid clothes for single parents.  Wow.  That feels even better.  You commit to the midnight-to-one, first Friday Adoration slot.  Yep . . .  Well, truthfully – Nope.  Not feelin’ the love on this one.  Hey.  I’m puttin’ in, but I’m not gettin’ back.  That’s not fair.  I’ll quit.  I mean, it’s only ‘fair’, right?  But that thought doesn’t feel . . . ‘right’.  Well, who cares?  There are other people in that particular Adoration slot . . .  Hey!  Joe and Sally don’t show up every first Friday.  How would me not showing up any first Friday be so different?  It would be okay.  It would be better than okay – it would be fair.

            But here’s the thing.  If Life isn’t fair.  Maybe spiritual life isn’t fair either.  Now wait a minute.  Hold on.  It wasn’t fair that Jesus – the sinless one – died a horrific death to give us the chance to get to heaven.  No, not fair at all.  But he did it.  Why do you suppose that was?  Uhh, hello!  He loved us.  Could it be that Love trumps Fair?  Could it be that when Mama told me Life wasn’t Fair – she was speaking quite loudly at the time because her head and arm were in the washer trying to reach that laaast sock – could it be that she also meant Love trumps Fair . . . ?

Ms. Catherine Lambert, O.P.

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