Twice a month the staff of St. Gregory the Great Church send out a spiritual reflection to all parishioners for whom we have an e-mail address. What follows are the most recent of these reflections. If you would like to have your name added to our e-mail reflection list, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will add your name to our listing.
SPIRITUAL REFLECTION – SISTER REGINA DE VITTO – AUGUST 21
This past week on the opening day of school a first grader was very anxious. He waited in line with his mother to get his temperature checked. She stood with him while he met his teacher, assured him that he had everything he needed and then hugged him goodbye. While the children were lined up outside waiting to enter the building a voice was heard: “We have a runner.” Sure enough it was this very anxious first grader. But his teacher’s face relaxed into a smile when she saw that the child did not get very far. The backpack his mother had carefully packed was too heavy!
I am sure we can all relate to the child who is overwhelmed with all that is new and unfamiliar. Anxious feelings can convince us that we are afraid of what we do not know because, we believe, like this child, we have been left alone to fend for ourselves. At the same time I am sure we can relate to the mother in this story, who tried hard to anticipate her child’s every need and like her child, waits to be reunited. My own thoughts are with the teacher, the one who companions the child safely to a new situation, who is kind and understands that patience and time will help this child become comfortable and sure of others.
Relationships teach us so much about what really matters and who we know are as true as they say. Jesus asks his disciples if people know his identity. Then Jesus asks the disciples themselves: Who do you say that I am? It is a wonderful question for each of us to ponder in these days of unprecedented times. It is a poignant question to face within ourselves: To whom do I belong?
I will give thanks to your name, because of your kindness and your truth. Ps.138
SPIRITUAL REFLECTION – AMY ALZNAUER – AUGUST 4
A few nights ago, we had a musical beds kind of parenting night. My sister’s family is visiting, this time without her husband since they are now in the midst of a divorce. She wanted a night to sleep alone, so we piled all four children into a single bedroom. When I came in to say goodnight, my seven-year-old niece was weeping. I put my arms around her and she sobbed, “I want my mommy.”
“Do you always sleep with your mommy?” I asked.
“No,” she said, her little body hiccupping with more sobs, “I just feel safer with an adult in the room.”
“I could sleep here,” I said. “Would that help?” I petted her hair and pulled it back from her wet cheeks. She was silent for a long time while I rocked her and smoothed her hair. I started thinking about how when you’re little a house changes at night, fills up with creaks and sighs and potential terrors, and I remembered something that happened so long ago it almost seems like prehistory.
It was also summer time, I’m sure, because my sister and I were in our summer nighties, mine blue, hers yellow. We were in that stretch of months between our birthdays, so we were only one year apart, four and three. We had woken up to darkness, maybe a July firework? And we couldn’t find our parents anywhere. In terror, we stood in the hallway between our rooms, clutching each other and wailing. My parents came in from their “walk” (back and forth in front of our house) and found us that way. But I still remember that night, especially my sister, shorter than me, her head fitting under my chin.
“I think it would work,” my niece finally said, bringing me back to her little body, not my sister’s in my arms, “if you sleep here. As long as you sleep in the bed close to me.” She was calmer now, practical, securing the room for the night.
So, we all switched around beds, me into my son’s bed, he into my daughter’s, and my daughter into my bed, next to her father. My sister’s night of peace was achieved. I settled in, pulling the covers over my head and turning on my flashlight like a rebellious kid.
The book was Looking for Alaska, which for the past so many chapters had seemed to be careening toward the central, 16-year-old boy’s loss of innocence at the hands of Alaska, an intoxicating, brilliant, worldly, and deeply unhappy girl. Each chapter title appeared to be counting down to this moment. Twenty days before. Fifteen days before. Two days before. And then, instead, Alaska dies, smashes her car drunk into a parked car and the steering wheel crushes her chest on impact.
The book then goes on to beautifully, painfully recreate in the reader the irrational feelings sudden death instills. It can’t be. We can go back. It didn’t happen. And the ensuing fear that comes when these questions repeatedly stall out.
The Colonel and I are walking back to our dorm room in silence. I am staring at the ground beneath me. I cannot stop thinking that she is dead, and I cannot stop thinking that she cannot possibly be dead. People do not just die. I can't catch my breath. I feel afraid, like someone has told me they're going to kick my ass after school and now it's sixth period and I know full well what's coming.
The two boys, who have never hugged each other, would never embrace, find themselves clutching each other, like my sister and I once did.
The Colonel turns his face from the ground to me and looks me dead in the eye and says, "I. Can't. Breathe." But he can breathe, and I know this because he is hyperventilating, breathing as if trying to blow air back into the dead. I pick him up, and he grabs onto me and starts sobbing, again saying, "I'm so sorry," over and over again. We have never hugged before, me and the Colonel, and there is nothing much to say, because he ought to be sorry, and I just put my hand on the back of his head and say the only true thing. "I'm sorry, too."
I was crying under the covers then, my reading glasses blurring, so I put the book down and peaked out. The room was quiet, my niece sound asleep, her thumb positioned close to her mouth, poised to soothe.
A child’s terror of night, the boys’ terror in the face of death, seemed suddenly the same. Children know what’s coming. They know in their bones that life is fragile, that they are fragile creatures, protected by fragile creatures. They can sense that everything is precarious.
I went back under the covers and picked up the other book I’d brought to bed. I opened it to the poem that, earlier that day, my husband had asked me to read. The poem was about a man who offers his heart to the Lord. His heart is accepted, but then he watches as an angel hurls it into a fountain where it bleeds and the water runs red. He watches his heart being tortured, because it was too dull, too hard, too foul. He watches and comes to understand that the Lord tortures his heart for love, that “each day, each hour, each moment of the week, [the Lord would] have you be new, tender, quick.”
Our current world is full of real terrors, of real daily hatred, of real daily deaths. We don’t need a night house to instill dread. And yet the feeling is familiar, it’s been with us since we were little. And it’s not wrong to feel this fear, to reach out for one another in our fear and hold on, for there is one who holds our hearts in His hands and weeps with us, as He makes our dull hearts new, tender, quick.