I’m sure I got a chuckle or two with that opening line… or maybe I’m the only one with a mind that operates that way. Regardless, I think the statement “The first time is always the hardest” is true in so many ways – both good and bad. Last week I missed mass not once, not twice, not even three times… but four times. It started Monday – and as I write this nine days later, I’m having difficulty recalling just why I missed mass. Work has been more than hectic lately, for sure… Project after project, obligation after obligation. I know I’m not unique or special in saying that I’m busy at work. Tuesday of last week took the cake – I had a meeting here at the office until about 7:00PM and then stayed here working on a project until almost 11:30 before heading home, only to stay up until 2:30 in the morning. Wednesday was more of the same. I finally got myself back to mass on Thursday of last week, only to miss again on Friday because I was traveling to Savannah.
Does missing mass make me a bad person? No – I know that it doesn’t. But I question more what it says about the promises I make to myself and others and how it speaks to other behaviors. Most people feel bad when they don’t do something they say they’re going to do. It’s human nature – or at least human nature for those with a conscience. But have you ever noticed how after the first time you either do something “bad” or don’t do something you said you were going to do, the second, third, etc. time gets a little easier? Is that why people make New Year’s Resolutions to get healthier and the gym is empty again by February?
I was at a meeting on Monday and one of the presenters said something that has stuck with me – he said, “There’s no such thing as trying. Either you do or you don’t.” I could easily say I tried to get mass those four days, but at the end of the day, I didn’t make it a priority and I didn’t find the time to go. It made me look at other areas of my life where I either do or I don’t. “I will try to get in touch with that friend,” or, “I will try to spend less money on dresses and shoes and save more or donate more.”
The last couple weeks of Lent are undoubtedly the hardest. We lose steam and focus. We wonder if the things we gave up or the things we’re doing extra are making a difference. I’m not going to just try to make it to mass each day for the rest of Lent. I’m going to make sure that I do.
Are you never late, sometimes late or always late? I would probably stick myself into the middle category, though I have noticed I have gotten a little worse as I’ve gotten a little older. I started thinking about being late and the impact it has on others when I ran into church 10 minutes late on Tuesday. I was working away when a co-worker walked past my office and said, “Good night, Jenny… you’re going to be late for church.” It was the first time since Lent started that I actually considered skipping. But I quickly gathered my things and myself and drove to the Cathedral. I walked in just as Fr. Strebler was at the altar preparing for the Eucharistic prayer. When you attend 5:10 mass at the Cathedral on a weeknight, you are likely one of maybe ten people there, so people see and notice you walk in. Including the priest. Smartass Jenny wanted to wave at him. Guilty Jenny wanted to duck her head in shame. Not only was I upset about being late in general, I missed my favorite part of mass. I like the reading, the gospel and especially, the homily. That’s what fuels this girl to keep attending mass. It takes me away from myself and allows me to contemplate the world around me. How am I treating others? Am I grateful enough? Am I judging too much? Am I worrying about things I really have no control over? Am I spending too much time thinking about the wrong things?
Being late to church on Tuesday was unfortunately the beginning of a domino effect for me. I was late to a meeting on Wednesday night… I was 5 minutes late to mass yesterday.
So what does being late say about you and what does it say to the people you are meeting? Do you apologize when you’re late? Do you expect people to just roll with your lateness? When I am late, I feel such a sense of guilt because I believe I’m sending the message to the person/people I’m meeting that their time isn’t as valuable as mine. Funny how we sometimes expect people to hold our time valuable, but also expect them to not mind when we’re late to be with them. I think the same holds true to our time with God, whether it be in prayer or in church. We expect Him to be right there for us if we’re going through a hardship or are faced with worries… but if everything in the world is right and we’re just going along our merry way, we can put our time with Him on the back burner and get to it when we’re good and ready. Save room and time for the one who always has room and time for you.
An unfortunate, but all too true fact of life is that we are often our least loving, least pleasant and least gracious selves to the ones we truly love the most. We often have the “get out of jail free” card attitude with people we maybe shared a room with for ten years growing up, or share a bed with now. Why in the world is that??? I know how terribly guilty I am of this at times. I struggle constantly with biting my tongue with my parents. My sisters and I can move from BFFs to enemies and back again in a matter of moments. Some view these relationships as blessings. It’s fortunate to have people we can be ourselves with and regardless of what we might say or do, they accept us, forgive us and take us back, even when we’re at our nastiest.
I think today of my friend, Bryan Schwegler, who died suddenly last August at the age 34 and today, would have turned 35. Bryan was in the prime of his life at the time of his passing. He was the biggest fan of food I have ever met and when we would dine together, would never skip dessert. We shared most of our undergrad classes at Ursuline and I know without a doubt that I would not have made it through half of them without him in class to entertain me. Bryan would put me into hysterics with the things that amused him – the Burger King (not the establishment itself, but the actual Burger King character with its giant head that scared the crap out of people in commercials); he couldn’t get over my use of the Nelly song “Hot in Herrre” for a project we did together in our very first class. Bryan and his partner, Adam, (along with my friend, Natasha) were the very first dinner guests I had when I moved into my apartment two years ago. And on our graduation day in 2010, Bryan and I shared breakfast at the Original Pancake House in Woodmere before heading to school for practice and mass. At the ceremony, we stood separated only by a few students and gave each other many smiles. I was happy our friendship continued after we left school. We would try to see each other once a month with Bryan and Adam either cooking for me at their home or taking me to a restaurant Bryan would insist I HAD to try. In July of last year, Bryan, Adam and me had dinner at Sweet Melissa’s and watched a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Othello” on the lawn of Lakewood Park before calling it a night. A few weeks later, we made plans to get together on August 22 to have dinner on the patio at The Player’s Club in Lakewood. I remember being in email with him confirming our plans and remarking how excited I was to see him – to learn more about his Swedish lessons in preparation for his upcoming trip to Sweden and hear more about his Masters classes at Ursuline. On the morning of Friday, August 19, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from Adam that read, “Bryan Schwegler passed away last night.” Do you ever read something and have to read it over and over because you’re not convinced what you read was actually real? Yeah, it was something like that… the worst was confirmed and on August 22, instead of having dinner with my friend, I went to his memorial service and walked away knowing I would never in this life see him, touch him, laugh with him, learn from him, or smile at him again.
Monday’s gospel spoke of how we treat each other. How when we’re at our best, and treat others with our best, we are treating God with our best. And how when we’re at our worst, we are treating God with our worst. There is nothing I am more grateful for than knowing my last interactions with Bryan were positive ones. That I know my friend died knowing he was loved by me. What I hope for is that everyone I love knows the same. And it’s my job to make sure they do.
I intended to write this morning about the homilies I heard on Friday and Sunday. But at this moment, it’s hard to think about or write about anything other than what happened in Chardon this morning. I don’t know about anyone else, but the thought that something so horrific could happen in a place so close to where I am is almost impossible to comprehend. Columbine seems years and miles away from today. I was 19 years old when Columbine occurred – long before the days of Facebook, Twitter or texting. One thing I am grateful for is that so many kids carry cell phones now and were likely able to contact their families to let them know they were okay. But there’s a double-edge sword in that as well. For every parent that received an instant text or phone call, there were undoubtedly some who did not and were likely panicked. There were exaggerated, inaccurate news accounts out there of what happened and who did it. There were Twitter photos identifying the shooter that may have been incorrectly posted. There is a rush in our society now. A rush to find out, a rush to know and a rush to tell everyone what we think is the truth.
Is there a rush to pray? I think so. I saw many posts on Facebook talking about praying. Praying for the victims – for their families – for the shooter. Pray for the kids who never wondered or worried about being safe when they went to school. Pray that their innocence might be returned to them. Pray that evil can stop and love can spread.
Whatever you might pray for or to whom you might pray, it is never too late to start. There is never a reason to believe that He is not listening to you.
You can get with this… or you can get with that. Oh, the prophetic lyrics given to us by Black Sheep that more or less went forgotten until Kia revived the song a couple of years ago when they aired that adorable Soul commercial with the hamsters.
Life for everyone really is one big “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. Each move we make determines what will happen next. I’m not sure about others, but I have spent way too many moments wondering if I made the right choices. Should I have gone away to school? Should I have moved to Florida? Was ending that relationship really the right thing to do? Often, I don’t pray before I make decisions, but I will notice a feeling in my gut when I end up doing what could be considered the wrong thing. I try not to be too hard on myself and have used the adage, “I did the best I could at the time.” The trouble one can run into with making bad choices is continuing to make them, even after nothing positive has come out of the decision that was made. I think this is where God comes in. I think that feeling in my gut – you know the one…the one that feels like someone is taking a shovel and digging everything out of the pit of your stomach – I think that is God. I think that is God saying, “Think a little harder about what you’re doing. Regardless of what you do, I’m going to be here for you, but really, really think about this.”
When I was a child and things didn’t go my way, I used to tell my mom I didn’t believe in God. If there was a God, there would be no way things wouldn’t go my way. If God is so wonderful and He loves me and wants me to be happy, then why did this happen this way? She would try to explain to me the idea of free will, but for the longest time, I wouldn’t accept it. I think I never really wanted to take responsibility for the things that were or were not happening to me and place the blame elsewhere.
If you’re lucky, you wake up each morning. And from that moment on, each and everything you do is a choice. I will shower and get ready for work or I’ll stay in bed. I’ll say something judgmental about my co-worker or I’ll remain silent. I’ll hang on or I’ll let go. I’ll answer the phone or I’ll let it go to voicemail. I’ll run the yellow light or I’ll stop for it. I’ll be afraid or I’ll be brave. I’ll love or I’ll withhold love. I’ll give or I’ll take. I’ll pray more or I’ll ignore that pit in my stomach. I’ll attend mass daily or I’ll make an excuse not to.
The choice is yours.
I left mass yesterday wondering if I had already royally screwed up Lent. The gospel reading talked to the behaviors of Christians during times of prayer, fasting and alms-giving – which is more or less what Lent is all about.
Matthew specifically says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
So, isn’t writing a blog about your experiences attending daily mass during Lent 100% against everything this says? I spent some time yesterday afternoon and last night thinking about it. Why really am I doing this? Am I writing to show people I’m a good person – a good Catholic? Am I guilty of a “look at me!” move?
There were other parts of mass that stood out. When I shared with a co-worker that I would be blogging about my Lenten journey, he asked, “Are you going to write about the car ride to and from church?” It was his typical satirical way and I was amused – but when Bishop Lennon was giving his homily yesterday, he said, “It’s not the kind of journey where you get in the car and go somewhere… it’s a spiritual journey to get closer to God.”
So, if that is in fact why I’m doing this – to get closer to God – then I think I’m okay.
As most of the free world knows, today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent means a lot of different things for people – for some, it’s a time of self-sacrifice. Those I’ve talked to are giving up everything from chocolate to sweets to booze to sex. For others, it’s an opportunity to do more for friends, family or strangers. I’ve “celebrated” Lent in various ways throughout the years… I’ve given up drinking, candy and shopping. I’ve donated more money to charity. But last year, I embarked on what was likely the boldest Lenten promise I’ve ever made to myself or to God. I challenged myself to attend mass – not every Sunday, but every day. If memory serves, I believe I attended mass 25 of 40 days last year. It was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience… I realized how little I actually pay attention when I’m in church. I would leave church, walk to my car and be unable to recall any of the homily. I realized I was on autopilot throughout the service – responding to prayers like a character in George Orwell’s 1984 or in that creepy Apple Super Bowl commercial from years ago. I didn’t like this at all… I didn’t like that I was devoting myself to spending time with God and was using that time to determine who I was going to go out with on Friday night. I used the experience to become more involved at the Cathedral in downtown Cleveland and became a Eucharistic Minister on Wednesday afternoons. I then began reading there every other Friday in addition to my bi-monthly reading at my home parish in Mentor.
My parents raised four children in a Catholic home. Church and PSR were mandatory. But when we became adults, Mom and Dad never forced us to continue going to church or take part in Catholicism. Of my siblings, I am arguably the most involved in my native religion. My brother has chosen a different path of Christianity and is very involved with his church… my sisters don’t often attend mass. Mass and the Church feel like home to me. Do I love everything about Catholicism? Absolutely not. But in life, do we ever love everything about everything? Can we name a time when our employer made a decision or rule that we didn’t agree with? Likely, but I doubt many left their job because of it… can we remember when our significant other or friend did or said something against what we truly believe in? Surely, but we may have not ended the relationship because of it. So no – Catholicism is not perfect. But the last time I checked, neither was I.
Today, I embark again on a journey of attending daily mass for the next 40 days. And I’m planning to truly listen – soak in the messages – enjoy this time with God and allow the words I hear to follow me out of the building and into my every day life.