While reading Genesis recently, I started pondering my family’s level of busyness and the copious amount of activity being undertaken recently. The children are exceedingly busy with the demands of their rigorous Catholic school…demands which, lately, cause me to question whether I’m only burdening them, rather than blessing them. I’ve found myself in the habit of adding on work hours for financial gain, which seems reasonable at the time of scheduling; then, when the time comes to apply myself to those hours, I see them as possibly mistaken priorities. There are myriad examples of this in our lives right now. There is not a lot of rest.
Is busyness a sin? Not necessarily. It is a curse, a “human condition,” a state over which we have some control and an obligation to discern. However, it seems presumptuous to think we can or should seek to escape it entirely, as God does not tell us in Scriptures that we are to kick back from the rigors of our responsibilities and let someone else shoulder our burdens on earth.
God made a mandate that we rest once a week, just as He did in creation. He not only created; He stopped and admired and appreciated all that had happened by His Mighty Arm. He did not make man for the Sabbath, but He made Sabbath for man, a merciful mandate which looked to our fallen state when He unfortunately had to tell Adam:
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
While we might find ourselves burdened with the work involved in our day to day lives, the sin is not in the busyness and the tending to these responsibilities, but rather, the failure to stop for a while, giving to God some time each week to be replenished spiritually and physically.
In my recent re-reading of Genesis, a thread appeared to me which I had overlooked before. In Genesis 5:28, we read of Lamech, father of Noah:
“When Lamech had lived a hundred and eighty-two years, he became the father of a son, and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.”
From this survivor of the flood would come the generations leading to the birth of our Savior, within Whom we find eternal peace and true rest.
Ultimately, God has given us the greatest gift of all: His Son, Jesus Christ, Who “immediately on the Sabbath…entered the synagogue and taught.” (Mark 1:21) He IS the Sabbath. And look how amazing this is…
Jesus Himself gives us the Bread from Heaven. He feeds us the Bread of Life in the Holy Eucharist, and we do not have to work for this at all. From sin we are cursed to eat bread in the sweat of our face; in Jesus Christ, we are fed with the very Sabbath Rest Himself, Who takes away the sins of the world, has mercy on us, receives our prayers, and feeds us personally. WHOA.
Sometimes, I wake up on Sunday mornings wishing I could just sleep in. Getting all our kids out the door seems like work, not rest. I confess to having done my share of grumbling. But look what happens so humbly and miraculously each and every Sunday. Jesus feeds us with His Body and Blood, giving us Bread from Heaven as the antidote to our cursed humanity. There is salvation one-on-one by the Gardener Himself.
Whenever we attend Mass at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, it’s impossible to miss the happy news that (now) St. John Paul II visited this very place and prayed in front of the Tabernacle. A large metal plaque on the exterior commemorates this event, but my favorite display is a small, framed photo of the back of him praying on a kneeler in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The frame is covered with the smudges of all who have in some way kissed or acknowledged this saint among us.
Anchorage is a tiny community. In spite of its vast physical size, even the vast state of Alaska as a community is small; it’s not uncommon to run into people or hear of those you know who may live hundreds of miles away. When something happens here out of the ordinary, it’s a big deal. Most of the time, “big news” is a new store that took the plunge and opened here or a restaurant that we quite literally pine away for in this isolated place. The wait for the new…wait for it…Olive Garden a couple of years ago had lines of people waiting more than three hours for a table when it first opened. I’m sure there were a few cardiac arrests when Target opened up.
So I can only imagine the excitement when it became known that then-Pope John Paul II was planning to stop in Alaska in 1981. In a state with a little more than 400,000 residents at the time, more than 100,000 people greeted him in person. It’s an excitement we still share.
When the Pope came to Anchorage in 1981, I decided what a better way for him to get a real sense of Alaska than to give him a ride with my sled dogs! Plans were all set to drive him on our Park Strip where he was going to be meeting with the people of Anchorage. But because of security concerns, the ride was shifted to the airport where I was to take him to his plane by dog team. Once he reached the airport, I was to drive him to his plane.
When the pope appeared, I was standing at the back of the dog sled. I had the dog team harnessed and a professional dog driver standing beside each pair of dogs. After I was introduced, I had an idea: “Your holiness, would you like to drive the dogs and let me do the riding?”
He smiled quizzically and looked at the archbishop before answering. The archbishop said, “If Vaughan says its safe, it’s all right with me.”
“What must I do?” his Holiness asked.
“It’s very simple. You stand on the runners and hold these handlebars, and I’ll do the rest. You just ride along to the plane.” He stood on the back ready to go. I said, “Your holiness, there’s one thing I feel that I should tell you before we start. Two of my dogs have terrible names and I don’t want to offend you if I have to call out their names.”
He waited for a minute and said, “What are their names?”
“One is Satan and the other is Devil.”
He thought a few seconds, and then he smiled. “No, don’t take them out — just as long as I’m doing the driving.”
It was a rare privilege for me and I’m blessed to have had the opportunity. —Norman Vaughan
Two years ago, when I first heard about the possibility of the Pope visiting America, I took for granted that we would be there. Of course we would be there! It’s Philadelphia! From Alaska, it’s not the easiest journey, but certainly easier than travelling domestically, and what an excitement to see the Holy Father on our own land. I’m actually thinking that, when I first heard about this possibility, Pope Benedict XVI was still our Holy Father. Bear with my fuzzy brain.
Yet here we are, and I’ve barely managed to watch any coverage at all. What kind of Catholic am I these days? My parents, who are not of the faith, excitedly shared their joy with me about the coverage they watched of the Pope landing. One of my daughters, who watched the coverage at her school, casually mentioned, “Does President Obama have two daughters? Because they got to see the Pope today, and I didn’t.”
I played with the same reaction–it’s hard not to have a wee bit of envy, imagining an environment in which our Holy Mother Church and her earthly leader at the helm is actually celebrated at large for a change. But once the time came to make plans to go, I didn’t even ponder the possibility.
Two years ago, our youngest daughter was 5. Traveling for pleasure, exploration, and discovery was becoming, again, a possibility in our minds, while we also wondered whether we’d ever be blessed with more children. Fast forward two years, and our family size has grown from 6 to 11 due to the custody of one child being restored, the adoption of one precious guy who just turned 3 years old this week (CHEERING!!!), the birth of a beautiful little girl, and the long-term fostering of two children who may- or-may-not-be-staying-permanently-who-knows. Thank you, God. We’re overwhelmed with your charitable answer to our question!
I submitted my FAFSA the other day for grad school and got the following error:
So, my enthusiasm for jumping on an airplane to get to Philadelphia with my family this year shrank to basically zero. It turns out, there is a limit to my willingness to suffer for the faith.
However, this week has been brimming with (coffee and) solidarity as I cherish my family members, and especially, my husband. He and I have been utterly devoid of opportunities for conversation lately, let alone times of rejuvenation and relaxed connection. I have been really consciously trying this week, more than most weeks, to keep a positive attitude and demeanor. It is a choice, and what a calming influence it has on the whole family, and especially, him. I pray for the grace to continue this, because I like having lots of happiness in my family. It’s good for everyone.
I find great strength in knowing the Vicar of Christ on earth is walking on American soil this week and praying for me and my family personally, and all of you. We are truly blessed! If you are not among the fortunate souls in attendance this week, may God grant you the time and space to watch the footage of Pope Francis and to receive the peace of Christ ever available in our Holy Mother the Church.
Fr. Thomas Loya writes in the August 2013 issue of “Theosis,” My hope and advice for married couples and for those preparing for marriage is that they will ultimately become great monks…Monasticism is a mindfulness that we belong ultimately to God and we cannot love humanely unless we love God first and above all. This is the secret to a happy marriage–to live first as “virginal spouses” and then as spouses married to each other. This profound reality is simply and beautifully summed up in the Song of Songs 4:8, 12, “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride.” Even married couples are first and always brother and sister in the Lord, even before they are spouse. The evangelical counsels, in case you don’t know, are the vows taken by monks, nuns, and consecrated religious to lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Some orders add a fourth vow, such as “obedience to the Pope” or “stability,” etc. As I ponder this quote by Fr. Loya, I consider that these three commitments, when avidly practiced by both parties of a marriage as great monks do, will inevitably guide spouses in the right direction: that of eternal life, the ultimate goal of sacramental matrimony.
The Counsel of Poverty
Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them ‘renounce all that [they have]’ for his sake and that of the Gospel. Shortly before his passion he gave them the example of the poor widow of Jerusalem who, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on. The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 2544, emphasis mine
If we are to love one another well and love Jesus above all, detachment from riches and material pleasures matters a great deal. If we are using all our time and attention to collect material goods, or placing materials in front of our eyes such as cell phones and TV screens when we could be engaged in more worthwhile pursuits, our marriage and faith will suffer. Our souls will suffer. Isn’t the homily about the rich young man always something along the lines of, “It’s not BAD to be rich, it’s what you do with it”? Am I the only one who wonders whether that’s just letting us all off the hook too easy?
The Counsel of Chastity
The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him…Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.”
CCC 2338-2339, emphasis mine
The Catholic Church, in case you haven’t noticed, teaches that how we have sex as married people matters. Are we objectifying the other and using them solely for pleasure? Are we preventing the transmission of human life? Are we lusting and using? Are we engaging in pornography and characterizing our marital bed with films or acts that are depraved and objectify the human person? Are we mast*rb*ting (sorry, trying not to attract too many of the wrong search engine hits) in our spare time and using our spouse (or someone who isn’t our spouse) as an object of mental and physical stimulus? etc. Frankly, chastity isn’t solely about sex; it is about everything that we desire. Eating may become a serious pastime for married people; it is an enjoyable, engaging way to spend time together. But chastity teaches that we must not be slaves to our passions, and I would include food in that equation. Fasting and abstaining as a married couple and family for periods of time is important if we wish to grow in that self-restraint. Food, sex, all of it. Take breaks. Pray more.
The Counsel of Obedience
The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in a spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ who was obedient even unto death requires a submission of the will to legitimate superiors, who stand in the place of God when they command according to the proper constitutions.
Code of Canon Law, Canon 601, emphasis mine
In the case of marriage, this Counsel works somewhat differently than in religious community, where its members have a superior to whom they give obedience as though to God Himself. They trust that God will work through and speak through their superior. In a marriage, a husband and wife are not in community with a superior other than our Lord and His Bride the Church Herself, and St. Paul’s exhortation, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:21-25, NIV)
The point is, how often are we seeking to have our own way rather than submitting our own will and humbly permitting our spouse to have that portion? Frankly, it’s not usually about big things. Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that can be so hard for us to submit to. As a good example in my own life, I used to take it very personally whenever I’d load the dishwasher and my husband would come in behind me and “fix” everything. I’d get very angry every time and take it very personally, like he was making a big statement about how I do things. Eventually, I realized that this was something important to him; he cares about how it gets done. I really don’t, as long as the dishes manage to get mostly clean. Nor do I possess his excellent spatial awareness. The guy can fit it all. This was a small thing that God was asking me to submit to, so I try now to ask for his involvement because of his meticulous concern for such things, and to try to do it more like how he likes it. I know this sounds goofy but this sort of thing can ruin your marriage if you let it.
Thanks for reading all these thoughts on the subject. I certainly can’t claim to be an expert or particularly holier than the next person, but when things seem to be suffering in my marriage, I’m going to take a look at these evangelical counsels and make sure I’m living my marriage like a great monk.
A friend recently posted a little meme, which, of course, I can’t find now, about Facebook: essentially, if Facebook cost money, would you use it? Her answer was “no.”
I like to think mine would be too, but as I pondered this question, I reframed it in my mind until a different answer, once again, came painfully into view:
What does Facebook cost me?
I don’t know about you, but this past month, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling about same sex marriage, it has cost me a great deal.
My feed has been flooded with rainbows, memes, articles, and all forms of sarcasm and veiled resentments and hatreds simmering up into plain view, like bubbles on the surface of boiling water, a warming pot waiting to overflow.
Transfixed by its ever-changing stream of content, I can answer that Facebook has and does cost me, dearly: in the form of time and peace.
It has cost my children their mother’s attention, even while I rail inwardly about children at least deserving the chance to have a mother and a father.
It has cost me in things I can never have back. Good, real, thoughtful, compassionate conversation, such as what I almost always have in real life, but what seems so challenging to have online, except in private email conversation.
Images I have seen now on it have been seared into my mind, costing me precious attention and detracting from my peace.
Furthermore, my actions in response to all of this are also rooted in my Facebook response. What status, what meme, what point shall I make today to perfectly counter this other status or meme?
“I’m so done.”
I say that now. 🙂
So, what to do?
You know what, Facebook? I would pay to use you, but only in exchange for some sort of limiting feature which grants me the ability to truly control my time and content. I have only found one good app for the time part, called “ScreenTime,” with which I could successfully limit my usage of apps at will, but it is no longer available to me on my current equipment. Furthermore, it is easy to cheat with these.
I suppose this is one more example of technology in our digital age in which technology exists simply to exist, and I am still stuck with my humanity. It’s on me.