This purported ancient Chinese proverb is usually ironically bestowed as more curse than blessing. We are certainly living in them, we Catholics in these waning days of the summer of 2018.
I feel an almost crushing burden of confusion, more than anything else, when I spend too much time going down rabbit holes and clicking over to related content, my mind swirling for somewhere firm to land. I told a friend this morning that I’ve had the sensation of my brain, not unlike an airplane, circling the airport looking for an open runway and, finding nowhere safe to land, being forced to remain in a frustrating holding pattern. I feel like I’m running out of fuel, to add insult to injury.
But when I ponder these days of crises with a more sober and serious disposition, I am forced to admit that my lived reality, my day-to-day tasks and struggles and responsibilities, remain almost maddeningly the same: deepen my own interior life. Be faithful to my vocation – and to the sacred vows I made. And teach my children the Gospel.
All else is, as they say, vanity.
And perhaps if I spent overly much time before July of this year letting priests and bishops and “the hierarchy” carry water for me, spiritually speaking, that time has passed. I cannot rely any longer on my own nasty little habit of clericalism, assuming the best of men of the cloth.
Are there good and holy priests? Of course. Real saints among us. And devils, too? Yes. Aren’t we finding out how very many…
And yet, what is this to you, and to me? Will a holy priest get me to heaven? Not if I don’t avail myself of the Sacraments of which he is a humble custodian, pursuing my own path of holiness with the aid of the mysterious sustenance Christ left for our earthly sojourn. A wicked priest is, too, only a humble custodian of God’s mercy, no matter the delusions of grandeur or murderous arrogance he may harbor.
I keep coming back to the thing I know to be true in these difficult times: Jesus.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As I am not without sin like the first two, I find myself wanting to cling to the best practices of that last guy and live as closely by his example as possible.
How did Joseph become a saint?
He lived with Jesus and Mary.
He was probably rarely outside of their physical presence, and he carried their spiritual presence with him like a flame in his heart at his work table. How often he must have paused in his necessary, earthly, mundane, exhausting work to take a cool drink offered by the little boy Jesus, to share a quick visit with Mary and feel the consolation of her gentle hand on his aching back. His sole concern as their provider and protector was to do his work to the best of his ability so that they would be fed, clothed, and sheltered for the glory of God.
Are my responsibilities as a mother much different? Can I push aside my immediate responsibilities to fret over what more I should be doing besides working quietly to the absolute limits of my human frailty to provide for the family whom God has entrusted me with? Maybe you’re not a parent. Maybe your current vocation is to a classroom full of children or a conference room full of employees, or even an auditorium full of fellow students. But I feel certain that we are each being called to emulate Joseph to the best of our abilities, executing our work on earth with as much care and humility as possible.
I cannot hope for Mary to hand me a cool drink of water or offer a clean cloth to wipe the sweat from my brow while I toil in the laundry room downstairs, fighting spiders and acedia to fulfill my daily duties, but I can turn to her in the rosary. I can align my heart with hers, praying for her Son to intercede in the lives of those other sons of her heart, her priests, that they would become more conformed to His passion.
I can’t open my arms for toddler Jesus to come running full tilt to leap in after a long day in the woodshed, but I can open my arms to my own children, pulling them into my lap to pray through the Scriptures, or bringing them along for the world’s fastest and least reflective visits to Jesus, fully present in Eucharistic Adoration.
I can go to Joseph. The first disciple of Jesus Christ in so many ways. I can love what he loved and live for what he lived for: the Mother, and the Son.