Monday, November 12, 2012

"It is Right and Just"

Philip's parents generously offered to take the kids Saturday afternoon and bring them home Sunday afternoon so that we could have some much-needed time together.  For the first time in a long time, we went to Mass without our children on a Sunday morning.  Perhaps it was because we didn't have our children around, or perhaps it was because I needed to hear God Sunday morning, but I felt like every single word of the Mass was meant for me today.

We arrived uncharacteristically early and had plenty of time to focus our minds in prayer before Mass began.  I prayed for God to open my ears to hear His Word and to receive the message intended for me.  I told God that I was anxious about the start of a new week.  Sunday marked one week from my visit to the ER for severe blood loss that resulted in an emergency D&C.  I prayed for God to help me to find patience, strength, and compassion toward others, especially Philip, our children, other family members, and our dear friends as we get back into our regular routine without Thérèse.  I told God that I will need Him to help me to give to others in love even when I am hurting.  I asked God to shoulder my worries that are either too big for me to handle or I am unable to do anything about.  

As I sat back in our pew, waiting for Mass to begin, I found myself staring at the crucifix above the altar.  I normally don't pay much attention to the figures at Our Lord's feet, but Sunday morning, I kept focusing on the faces of the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John.  For whatever reason, their faces struck me.  I kept thinking, "This must be the moment of greatest sorrow in their lives, but instead of looking into their hands or at the ground, they keep looking right at Him."   

Photo of our Church sanctuary
As warm tears started to spill uncontrollably out of my eyes, I imitated the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John at Jesus' feet.  I kept my gaze on our crucified Lord.  Philip handed me a stack of tissues that he fetched when he saw me tearing up, and people filled in all around us.  I tried not to break focus through the tears.  I prayed as I gazed into his sorrowful face.  "Please, help me to love--even when it hurts." 

The choir leader asked us to open our hymnals to "Here I am, Lord."  I tend to get emotional during certain hymns at Mass anyway, but hearing the words in this song so soon after losing Thérèse overwhelmed me.  
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.  

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people's pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my Word to them.
Whom shall I send?
As we sang, I thought, "I want to do Your will, but I need You to keep leading me.  I am sorry for the times that I have turned away from You and caused You pain.  Please break this heart of stone, and keep breaking this heart of stone until I have a 'heart for love alone.'"    

The Liturgy of the Word began, and I asked God to open my ears to hear His Word.  In the First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16), we heard about a poor widow and her son that were starving to the point of death.  The prophet Elijah approached her, asking for a morsel of bread.  She responded that she was going home to prepare their last meal and die.  Elijah says to her, "Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son."  At this point, I had to re-read the passage to make sure I heard it correctly.  This poor widow told Elijah that she was going home to prepare a last meal for herself and her son before they died, and Elijah responded by asking her to bring him "a little cake" before going on home to die?!  Nonetheless, we hear that the woman goes home and does exactly that, and "she, and he, and her household ate for many days."  Talk about faithfulness!

In the Psalm (Psalm 146: 7-10), we heard that the Lord executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, loves the righteous, etc. and that He will reign forever for all generations.    

In the Second Reading (Hebrews 9:24-28), we heard about Christ being "offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."  At this point in the Mass, I realized that Christ's face will be the first that Thérèse will see.  Blessed be God forever!

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 12:38-44), we heard that Christ sat down opposite the treasury and invited His disciples to observe the wealthy and the poor put in their contributions.  He pointed out a widow putting in two copper coins, and said to His disciples, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."

I tried to piece the message together for myself, but the priest saying Mass gave a homily that I hope will stay with me forever.  "It's easy to give when we're happy and things are going well.  If I win a million dollars, maybe I'll give ten thousand dollars to a charity, and maybe I'll feel really good about myself.  If I'm having a good day, it's easy to be patient with my children.  Those of you who are parents know that it's a lot more difficult to be patient and loving toward your children when you're having a bad day.  Or, wives and husbands, employees and bosses, etc."  At this point, I thought the priest was talking directly to me.  I was anxious about my ability to be loving and patient to others as I started a "back to normal" week without Thérèse.  I knew I'd be hurting but that I'd need to go on doing my job as a wife and mother.

The priest turned to the readings and seamlessly strung them together.  He said that the poor widow on the First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) and the Gospel (Mark 12:38-44) both "gave in their want."  They gave until it hurt.  They gave in pain, in loving obedience, and in complete trust that the Lord would reward them.  

He said when we're hurting and we're having a bad day, we won't have the strength to love in this way unless we pray for the ability to do it.  He said it's "going into overdrive.  You have to shift the gears in your car when you're going up a mountain, and you have to shift into overdrive when you're going up your own personal mountains."  Bring on the tears!  Here I was, going up my biggest personal mountain yet.  "It's easy to give in times of surplus, but it's when we give in our want that God really rewards us."  God knew I needed to give to my family in this time of want and that I needed Him to help me shift into overdrive.  

The Mass continued, and I felt an overwhelming peace come over me.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist began, and we prayed the Eucharistic preface.
Priest:     The Lord be with you.
People:   And with your spirit.
Priest:     Lift up your hearts.
People:   We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest:     Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People:   It is right and just.     (emphasis mine)

Since we started using the new translation last Advent, I've been struck by the response "It is right and just."  Until last Sunday's readings and Father's homily, I hadn't internalized what the words "right and just" really meant or why we would say those words in preparation for receiving the Eucharist.  

Then it hit me.  I started a little internal monologue.

Of course it's "right" to give thanks to God and lift up our hearts to Him, but why are we talking about it being "just"?  

Well, what's the virtue justice mean anyway?  

Justice is giving to others what is due to them.   

If God is our Creator and Love itself, then of course it's just to worship Him.   

So, why emphasize that it's "right and just" to "give thanks to the Lord our God"?

If God is our all-knowing Creator and Love itself, then of course He knows what is best for us--even when it doesn't make sense to our tiny little brains.

God loves Thérèse even more than I do, and my heart aches that I can't have the life I envisioned with her, but God knows that this hurt is for a greater good.  I might not understand it all now, and that's okay, but in the meantime, it is "right and just" for me to "give thanks to the Lord our God" in my want.  Like the widows in the readings, I need to "give (thanks) in my want" and remember that it is "right and just" to "give thanks to the Lord our God."   

How appropriate that I pieced the meaning of this prayer in preparation for the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, which interestingly enough, actually means "thanksgiving."  Approaching that summit, I envisioned myself in that car "shifting into overdrive" like Father talked about in his homily.  As I approached Christ in the Eucharist Sunday, I gave to Him in my want.  I cried tears for our baby Thérèse, and I prayed, "God, in my want, accept our sweet Thérèse into Your heavenly kingdom.  Help me to give thanks to You in my want, and help me to make my own life an offering to you."  

With that thought in mind, the choir director asked the congregation to open their hymnals to "The Cry of the Poor" for the Communion Hymn.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Blessed be the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at all times.
With praise every in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord.
Who will hear the cry of the poor.

This time, I cried tears of joy in the knowledge that our loving God heard the cry of this poor servant.   


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