I didn’t have to go to Mass but felt I should. I dawdled — now I’m late?
“God must have planned something else,’’ I told myself. “What about Holy Spirit? I haven’t been to Mass there in a while.’’
I’d missed 8 a.m. Mass at my parish. But nearby Holy Spirit Catholic Church has a 9 a.m. Mass so I went there, immediately feeling tugged in a new way by an old line. It’s a line in the Confiteor prayed at the start of every Mass:
“I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do...’’
“What I have failed to do,’’ hit me hard at that moment…
“What I have failed to do,’’ seems to be a big sin for me, spiritual sloth. It seems like a big failing widespread throughout the first fifth of the 21st century.
Every day, I have things on my internal “to do’’ list, things I feel I need to do. Instead, I pick up my phone or iPad to “check’’ something (which feels productive), pushing lots of buttons.
Suddenly, I’ve turned down the wrong road:
Instead of fixing that hole in the floor or covering the deck furniture, I’m doing something that feels more urgent (with a momentary reward), checking email and the stock market and news feeds and the never-ending streams of social media and news alerts, checking stat pages to measure every new win.
The distractions are limitless.
It’s so easy to fail to do things you want to do each day because of unimportant yet urgent sounding things that don’t really make my list of priorities.
I am sure some of these same distractions wouldn’t make God’s wishes for me either.
Our phones, like our brains, are filled with the data we put there. So my phone has lots of good and helpful data to examine and tools to use. So “just turning it off’’ means turning off lots of good and helpful things. But also a lot of less helpful distractions as well.
Driven to Distraction: The new alcohol
In Confession, after Mass, I told Father John: “Things we can do on our phones are the new alcohol, total wastes of time. I have these things on my ‘to do’ list that I never get to because I get distracted by all these other things.’’
The Washington Post once chronicled the disappearance of the “gatekeepers” who protected us from wasted distractions: 20 years ago, executive assistants protected executives from wasted calls from sales people and other interlopers. Today, the distractions show up on our phones.
We all can start our days with 10 urgent things on our “to do” list and have that time stolen by urgent-sounding emails and messages and texts asking us to do something else right now.
I worked for a man who never seemed to “do’’ much. I later had an executive assistant filling my calendar with meetings. At that moment, I realized we can spend 60 hours a week attending meetings, answering emails and calls and never actually accomplish a thing.
Father John smiled, agreed he looked at his phone too much as well and said “Well, you know, you can call people who need help on your phone too.’’
I smiled, recalling the headline several years ago about AT&T executives “freaking out’’ because they saw young people spend more minutes texting than talking on the phone. AT&T, short for American, Telephone and Telegraph, has TELEPHONE (talking), at the heart of its brand name and we aren’t even talking on our phones as much as we used to.
For my penance, Father asked me to say 10 Hail Marys for a family in need. I went into the chapel and saw our friend Corinne praying. I knew her important John Paul Project ministry needs to raise money so I prayed my entire penance for her family and ministry.
From Glory to Agony then Glory Again…
I’d gone to daily Mass that morning expecting to learn more about the Holy Innocents. The Church goes from celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 to remembering the mass execution of innocent babies just three days later.
From glory to agony in three days: Such is life in the story of the Church and life itself. Herod the Great felt threatened by the news of Jesus’ birth and responded by having every male baby killed. Joseph, warned in a dream, got his family to safety in Egypt.
Bishop Robert Barron explains: “Herod’s massacre of the innocents mimics, of course, Pharoah’s murder of the male children of the Hebrews at the time of Moses’ birth. Once more we are made to see that, in the fallen world, the least powerful can be ruthlessly eliminated in order to satisfy the needs and assuage the fears of the most powerful. Of course, the same Herod who casually ordered the murder of the children of Bethlehem had previously commanded the execution of two of his own sons. This awful story functions as a vivid picture of what compromised family life looks like.’’
God takes something as common as a family and makes it central to the salvation of the world, Father Joe Campbell explains: “Everybody has a mommy and a daddy… The Church has clearly articulated that the family is the most fundamental building block of society itself. If the family begins to crumble, so goes society at large... It seems like the world is getting crazier by the second… We all have this call to make our families a place of peace…’’
Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan added:
“If you look at the manger scene, this is the big image of what Christmas is, we think of it as this idyllic, pleasant, peaceful place but in reality, it was a stable. Think for a moment about what a stable’s like: it stunk. There were animals that were defecating in the stable. It was cold. It was not even planned. They weren’t supposed to be there. They were looking for a hotel room. And that is precisely the mess into which the Son of God came. If we reduce the idealism of Christmas and emphasize it’s incarnation, which is what the feast is about, I think we can have a more realistic and holistic understanding of the meaning of Christmas.’’
Our St. Philomena Story: The Wonder Worker finally grabs me…
It’s so easy to feel we aren’t accomplishing much but imagine being a saint and then being totally forgotten?
Such was the case with St. Philomena (meaning “daughter of light”), who lived just 13 years, from 291 AD to 304. She was long forgotten when her remains were discovered on May 24, 1802. Many miracles followed.
We know little about Philomena except her impact on others…
Immediately after receiving communion from Father John, I found myself thinking of my Grandma Hattie, who was born on December 29, 1910 and died on January 10, 2002.
My grandmother was a saint, I was and am certain.
As I thought of Grandma Hattie, I also started thinking about January 10 (the day Grandma died), wondering how old Grandma would be now (109).
On the way out of Church, a feeling told me I needed to grab an essay Father John had written on “Our St. Philomena Story.’’
They were stacked up on a wall and I’d passed them before but now I knew I needed to read it. His essay is on the website too. Father John often talks about St. Philomena but I tend to pay more attention to the “heroic’’ saints who say inspiring things and do great deeds.
We know little of anything St. Philomena did in life. Philomena died as a young girl. But something told me it was time to read why Father John is so interested in this young girl.
Pow, it hit me as soon as I read it…
Father John’s interest came over a period of many, many years. Year after year, he kept encountering references to St. Philomena on JANUARY 10 (Philomena’s birthday).
Minutes before reading this, I had just been thinking of that exact same date, because Grandma Hattie died on January 10.
I never knew a lot about St. Philomena but I knew Grandma.
Like Philomena, my grandma bravely endured great suffering (my Grandma had Polio as a child) and struggled just to walk. But she lit up the life of everyone she touched.
Years before we could forward articles via email, she dutifully read the newspaper each day, found stories she thought would interest me and mailed them to me in stamped envelopes. Someone who struggled to walk made time to get me the news and I went into the news business. She did little things (that helped have a big impact) for all sorts of people.
So maybe life isn’t about a “to do’’ list as much as it is about impacting others?
Adding to that “God feeling:’’
This all was occurring the day before Grandma’s December 29 birthday and Father John had just prayed in Mass for a parishioner’s departed mother who had the exact same December 29 birthday.
I read on and learned Philomena’s forgotten tomb had been discovered on May 24, 1802. May 24 is our daughter Katie’s birthday and it falls exactly six months to the day before my mother’s birthday (Grandma Hattie’s first child). Little stories in within stories tie together seemingly unrelated events. And all those little things can add together to impact an otherwise impossible cause.
Father John explains many minor miracles connected to this “little patroness’’:
“Philomena was a patron saint for difficult or impossible causes. She would share that title along with St. Jude and St. Rita of Cascia. But she was also a patroness of Catholic Schools… I suspect that there are many out there who have been given the special grace of having ‘met’ her through some unusual, divine coincidences, as I have… I should also point out that one of the early members of that cult was the patron saint of Catholic Priests, St. John Vianney... He always gave her credit for all the wonders he performed. Another was Pauline Jaricot, who was healed of a very serious illness through the intercession of the saint.’’