Thursday, July 9, 2020

Kindred Spirits in a Time of Pandemic

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a millennial.  I grew up in the time of almost nobody having a computer at home, and now, almost everyone has one.  I still marvel at the fact that schools now are working toward a one-to-one student-to-device ratio, because that’s just how education works right now (especially with online learning and home-based instruction).  When I was in elementary school, first at Cosgriff and then at the Madeleine Choir School shortly after it opened, “computer class” was Oregon Trail, and typing games, and that was pretty much it.  When I got to high school at Judge, the library had two rows of big chunky iMac computers.  I didn’t have e-mail until college, and I didn’t have social media until my second year of undergrad.  Now, technology has taken over almost everyone’s lives, right down to toddlers who can navigate an iPhone.  Life moves pretty fast sometimes.

When I was growing up, “screen time” wasn’t a thing.  If someone referred to screen time it meant how long a certain actor was actually on-screen during a movie or television show.  Now, that phrase is used to refer to the amount of time people spend on the computer or looking at their mobile device.  I’ll admit, I spend way too much of my time engaged in “screen time.”  I can justify some of it as necessary to do my job, but a lot of it, I could probably do without.

But even with its definite downsides, technology can serve to connect us during times of social isolation, like the last several months have been.  It can serve to create a virtual community.  It can connect us to our “brick and mortar” communities when we aren’t able to visit them in the physical world.  One can also find groups of like-minded people to connect with.  An example of this is Fr. Gray’s morning coffees with his St. Mary’s parishioners in Park City over Facebook Live.  Using technology to build community rather than to escape from it is a wonderful thing.

At St. Ambrose, we on staff have been working hard since the pandemic restrictions really began to impact our city and state to keep people connected to the parish through social media and YouTube Masses.  We are learning and evolving together.  Let us hope and pray that technology will help us to remain kindred spirits in community even during isolation.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

If It's Broken, Fix It!

Here we are in a new month.  Finally.  Or is it already?  Or is it both?  Time can be funny like that, seemingly plodding along when one is in the thick of things and then seeming to have flown by.  The beginning of a new month typically feels like a good time for me to hit the “reset” button.  July usually is doubly so because it’s my birthday month.  It’s a good time to take mental stock – what has been a distraction?  What has been a detriment to me in the last month that I can try to get rid of?  What was a good and constructive way to spend my time?  How can I budget more time for the good activities and less for the detrimental ones?

Typically, one of my monthly “resolutions” will have to do with taking care of certain things I’ve been neglecting to do, whether in my secular life or in my spiritual life.  I ask myself, what feels broken or out of place?  Can I do something about it, or is it out of my control?  If I can do something about it, how can I fix it?  Do I need help to fix it?  How can I get help if I need it?  It’s an interesting mental exercise to go through, and most of the time, if there is a problem in my secular life, adding something to my spiritual life is a good way to try to fix what is “broken.”

Is there something in your life that feels “broken” right now?  Do you have control over it?  If you do, what could you add or change to “fix” it?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Taking Stock

My brother and his wife were over this past weekend to celebrate Father’s Day with my parents and me.  After dinner, my mom sent all of us down into the basement to go through what seemed like mountains and mountains of STUFF.  (I can hear Mrs. May, my sixth grade religion teacher, in my head right now…  “Stuff is not a word!”)  This was the moment to go through things in the storage room because we will need to have some major repair work done in the basement soon.

It is sobering to go through years’ and years’ worth of STUFF that has accumulated.  It’s like looking back at a past life.  My brother had “projects” from his years at trade school down there that he looked at wistfully but ultimately resigned to the trash or charity piles.  There’s still quite a bit of stuff down there, and it brings back memories of good times and of bad ones too.

I myself have been doing some cleaning out as well, both of my personal belongings at home and of things at work.  Now that I’m two years in at my job, I know what I use, what I need, and what I can safely give away.  Summer is a good time for me to take stock, since in theory, there are fewer things for me to juggle during the summer months.

If you are finding yourself with extra time on your hands, consider taking stock of your own spaces.  Make piles to throw away, piles to donate, and piles to drop off for the Knights of Columbus garage sale in August.  You never know what you might discover.  And if you can’t use something, there is surely someone out there who can.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Preparing for the Unpredictable

At the moment, it feels like we are in something of an indefinite holding pattern.  We don’t know what the next few months, let alone the next few weeks or days, will look like.  I am friends with a lot of teachers at various levels of the education system, and they are feeling the uncertainty particularly strongly as we enter the months of planning and preparation for the new school year.  What will our “public life” look like in the fall?  It is impossible to say.  And yet, teachers have to prepare for all eventualities.  Whether students are back in the classroom or still learning from home, teachers will be there to support them and their parents. 

I myself find myself working through several models of how I might present faith formation for those who would like to become Catholic.  We are very fortunate to have access to online options at the moment, but it can become a poor substitute for in-person interaction.  I find myself falling back on certain strategies I learned in my special education training classes in college.  Differentiated instruction, here we come!  Find multiple ways to convey the same information.  Simplify.  Break down.  Chunk.  All of my education buzzwords.  Don’t assume one way will work for everyone, just because it works the best for you.

Who knows?  Maybe we will stumble onto something that is better than what we had before.  And if not, that’s okay too.  We will adapt, and we will carry on, and we will do the best we can with the circumstances we face.  It doesn’t do us any good to despair over the fact that we don’t know what is coming.  Even when life seems to be predictable, it really isn’t.  Life is going to throw us curveballs, and our reaction to them is what matters in the end.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Vanishing Man

In spite of many obstacles, my brother is getting married in a few short days.  As such, he has been moving his things to the house where he and his fiancĂ© will live.  It feels like my brother has always been around.  He is seven years older than me, and I can almost count on one hand the number of years during my lifetime that we have not lived in the same house.

We weren’t what I would call “close” when we were growing up.  Seven years is a BIG difference when you are a kid.  But as I reached my teens and he, his twenties, we started to get closer to one another.  We joke that we were raised on the same source material, so we have the same sort of sense of humor, and it annoys our dad to no end when we get going.

I think it’s really going to hit hard next week when he’s no longer around all the time.

And in thinking about all this, it strikes me how much our liturgical year and the scriptures assigned to it can speak to us in our day-to-day lives.  Jesus has ascended into heaven.  He left his disciples, but he did not leave them, or us, orphans.  He sends the Holy Spirit to us to be our comforter, advocate, and guide.  Just so, in my family’s current situation, my brother is not abandoning us.  On the contrary, he is giving us a new family member for us to love and who loves us in return.  (Having never had a sister, I am super excited!) 

It will mean changes for all of us, as we adapt to new habits, for the better.  It will be an adjustment to another aspect of our “new normal”.  In that sense, maybe it is helpful that it is happening now, when we are, necessarily, making other adjustments to our lifestyle.  Moving forward will be an adventure, and one that we will hopefully welcome with open arms.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Case for Ascension Thursday

Author's Note:  Due to certain family circumstances, this is a late blog, but nevertheless something to consider, whether it is after the fact or not.

In most dioceses of the United States, the feast of the Ascension has been transferred to the Sunday before Pentecost.  The reasons for this vary according to whom you ask.  One reason I have heard is that it’s such an important feast that it should be observed by all Catholics, and moving it to Sunday makes it more likely that people will attend.  As Father Erik pointed out in his homily on Thursday of last week, it is a solemnity and a holy day of obligation, and to miss Mass on a holy day of obligation through one’s own fault is a mortal sin.  So, remove that possibility altogether, and move it to Sunday!

 

I don’t know that that’s really a good reason to move the feast.  It takes away a bit of accountability for us, and we can always use more accountability, especially in these days of restrictions and unconventional circumstances.  Father Erik also pointed out that the Ascension is a historical event.  It took place forty days after Jesus’ Resurrection.  Forty is such a significant number in the Bible that it makes sense to preserve that.  Further, if we celebrate Ascension on Thursday, we get a full ten days to prepare for Pentecost, which took place fifty days after the Resurrection.

 

We celebrate Christmas on whatever day it happens to fall.  Yes, this is due to the commercialization of Christmas to a certain extent, but it has a place in our consciousness.  Easter is a more significant feast for Catholics.  Our entire liturgical year is set by the date of Easter.  Surely the feasts of the Easter season should be given the same dignity.  Further, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not transferred other feasts which are holy days of obligation, such as August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption.  Surely, Jesus’ return to His Father in heaven should be afforded the same courtesy.

 

Holy days of obligation are a chance for us to stop, take stock of our spiritual lives, and make a small sacrifice of an hour of our time to attend Mass.  Our lives might be inconvenienced, but it is worth it to maintain our relationship with God.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Easing Into It


Let’s face it, things will most likely never go completely “back to normal.”  We’re going to have to create a new normal.  As Father Erik mentioned in his homily last week, we have plenty to trouble our hearts right now, but Jesus speaks to us through the scriptures.  He tells us “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Have faith in God.”

We also need to have some common sense and a healthy sense of caution.  Just because we CAN do more things with restrictions easing doesn’t mean we must or we should.  But above all, we must have faith.  For some, going out in public is going to be scary, and that’s okay.  Ease into it.  Don’t try to do too much at once.  Don’t let it become overwhelming.  Take baby steps.  Believe that it will get better.  It will get easier.  It will become more normal.  Taking small steps forward will help to reduce the number of steps we have to take back.

If you are hesitant to come back to church, take that hesitancy to God in prayer.  Let Him help you regain the confidence to join in once more.  These times of isolation and separation have been difficult, even for those of us who prefer alone time to being with big groups.  Ask God to help you return to Him in small ways at first and then each step will get easier.

We look forward to the day when our new normal actually seems normal again.