Refuge

A horrible, holy day

Wow, what a rotten Saturday I had! The weight of so many situations beyond my control really crushed my spirit. I started by oversleeping and missing my quiet time in prayer, a critical mistake! I rallied and hit the ground running (with no caffeine) and got Olivia to her soccer game (late and with only half a uniform). As I tried to focus on the 5-year-olds running around in circles on the field, my thoughts were on the rest of the trips and events of the day, trying to work it all out in my mind. As I get older, these crazy schedules really weigh on me more and more. After this game were more soccer games, a birthday party (requiring a gift), baseball, and a baccalaureate Mass later in the day. I usually avoid the mall like the plague, but when we need to get dressed for an event, it just has to happen. If only clothes and shoes for my children could just magically appear; yet one more reminder on a day like today of how much I miss my mom!

Next up was the never-ending battle with my children over technology. I swear their little devices have become enemy number one and it’s all-out war at times. A short time later, I was confronted with the sin of a loved one. It’s just so hard to watch how sin enslaves and at the same time watch the one who is enslaved crying for freedom. More weight on my spirit.

I couldn’t wait to get to Mass later that night, but even that was turning into a battle. The teenagers were excited for graduation the next day, but not about an optional Mass on their Saturday night. We insisted, and that’s putting it mildly… I was desperate for some peace in my heart. I went to get dressed (running late of course!) and lo and behold my go-to summer capris wouldn’t button. When did that happen?? How depressing. We made it to the Mass with all the younger ones, and we were even a few minutes early. I was hoping the graduate would actually show up and the 2-year-old wouldn’t run screaming to the altar at the consecration, but I was eager for the liturgy to begin. We piled into the pew behind friends who also have a large family, beautiful inside and out, completely put together with their graduate and all, and their littlest one sound asleep on Daddy like an angel-child. I didn’t really think I could feel more inadequate or more of a train wreck on this day. I was wrong. It was at that very moment that our youngest one ripped off her shoes and her pigtails and went tearing out of the pew, hair flying, to the back of the church, just as the Bishop was walking out of the sacristy. I’m pretty sure that my child taking out the Bishop before Mass would’ve been the last straw of the day for me. Thankfully, he good-naturedly chuckled and then got out of her way! I sat in my pew crying to the Lord, Why? Why, why, why, are my family and I such a hot mess?

 

My spirit felt crushed by my inadequacies and all that I could not overcome. I needed Holy Mass more than anything, but even being there, I was distracted by an unruly toddler, my late-to-Mass teens, and the general party vibe from the not-regular-mass-goers there. “Help me Lord!” Why can’t I be all these ideals I strive to be? Why did I fall into comparing myself to others when I know what a deadly road that is to walk?  Why can’t I be without the sin and selfishness that made everything hard today? Why can’t I at least fit in my clothes? Why, why, a thousand whys?

And He gently answered my heart. If I were all these perfect things then I wouldn’t need Him. Oh, how I need Him! I do know that I need Him and I always want Him, but why all of this, all at once, nearly crushing me today? I do need you, Lord. I guess I can literally do nothing without You. I know that in my head, but today He allowed me to feel it. I am not sufficient in any single area of my life. I am sick, and the sick need a doctor.

“And then he broke the bread saying take this all of you and eat. For this is my body which will be given up for you.”

I felt Him reassuring me, ‘all the sin around you, all your own sin that you can’t overcome, I knew, I saw, I took care of that already.’

“Do this in memory of me.”

Daily, I need to remind myself how much I need Him and His sacrifice that happened on Calvary once for all. But so much more than that, I need Him physically again and again to fill me and to overcome all my human weakness, selfishness, and sin. The remembrance alone would never be enough for this fickle heart. Mere words and ritual could not penetrate through the totality of my mess and bring me to the humility I needed to be one with Him. Nothing but the sheer mystery, awe, wonder, and total faith required to believe that yes, Jesus Himself in His very flesh and blood, is bringing Himself to me again and again every day, could overcome my hot mess. He humbled Himself once to come into humanity, and He continues to humble Himself at the hands of men, His priests, so that He might nourish, heal, comfort, overcome, answer, and love. I by myself will never be enough and He knew it from the beginning, so He comes in many ways, but none so real as this.

“Behold, the lamb of God.” My King before me in the humblest form of bread, so simple even a child can receive Him.

Thank God for this horrible day. If there were nothing weighing on my spirit, would I know how much I need Him? Might I be willing to settle for some quiet time in prayer instead of making the effort or engaging in battle to get to Mass? Sometimes it’s enough to retreat in prayer and simply take refuge in Him, but what a gift and a treasure to be able to allow Him to take refuge in me.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

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An open letter to our beloved Catholic clergy, here in the Syracuse Diocese, and everywhere

Dear Father (Bishop, Deacon, Brother,…):

On a Sunday morning in July, I arrived at Mass a mental, physical, and spiritual mess. The busy summer schedule had me running ragged in an effort to keep all my little darlings (7 of them) busy and happy, as well as meeting all of my basic responsibilities. As the weeks of summer wore on, the frenetic pace caught up with me and the physical toll meant that I started sleeping through my “prayer time” alarm every morning. That is always the first sign on the slippery road to spiritual wasteland in my experience. I felt like I was in a vast desert with no water in sight. I doubted that even Mass could restore me to peace.

This particular Sunday, we had some (all-too-common) teenager miscommunication and couldn’t get all the kids to Mass. It was either some of us or none of us, so I was overwhelmed with frustration at life in general and myself in particular. Couple that with grieving the recent loss of my mom, the 2 year-old still-stinging loss of my oldest daughter, and the 7 year-old ache of missing my first-born son, and this mama wanted to throw in the towel. I never would, but it’s the honest truth of how I felt. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, overburdened, and feeling inadequate and powerless to fix any of it. I truly love and live to serve as a wife, mother, friend, and member of the body of Christ, but often it’s a difficult and thankless job. (Often it’s not, but on this particular Sunday I had lost sight of the flip side). As the Mass began and the priest arrived on the altar, he looked right at me and said, “Karen, it is well, I am here to serve you.” OK, not really, but I heard it and felt it and in that moment my hope was restored because a faithful and devoted servant of God was standing his post.

Later, I wondered in awe at the sacrifice and dedication it takes to be a holy and devoted priest in the Church today. Do you get lonely, irritated, tempted, selfish, or struggle with obedience? I certainly do. Do you sometimes feel so overwhelmed by the tasks before you that hopelessness, fear, and despair rear their ugly head? That sounds familiar. Does living your vocation faithfully require determination, faithfulness, and lots of supernatural grace?  Welcome to my life.  As I contemplated our different vocations, (and forgive me if I’ve presumed too much), it dawned on me in a new way; if you can do it, then so can I. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.  I want you to know, your faithfulness shines like a beacon in darkness and brings relief to the desperate, like finding water in a dry desert.

I can’t imagine my life with the absence of the priesthood. I don’t want to imagine it either. You’ve been there in every joyful, difficult, sad, questioning, and holy moment of my life. You welcomed my children into the Church and to the body of Christ. By the power vested in you, you’ve absolved me of my sins and counseled me. You united my husband and me in holy matrimony thereby cementing my vocation. You prayed with us and for us in our times of devastating loss. You have been there, every single Sunday of my life, bringing Jesus truly present to this sinful and needy soul. At every Mass you are John the Baptist crying in the desert, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Without you there would be no need to respond with humility and need, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”. There would be no exchange. There would be no Mass. There would be no hope. Without you the tomb would always feel empty and hopeless.

I have experienced a taste of that hopelessness twice before. It’s a feeling that felt to me like Good Friday x1000. Twice now, we have held a wake to say goodbye to one of our children. Twice, we have greeted thousands and smiled and cried for hours on end. Twice, we have gone home afterwards to stumble through the longest night and wonder how on earth we would face the morning. The tomb was empty and so were we. Then twice again, we have said goodbye and closed a casket and trembled on our way to a funeral Mass, silently screaming to God to let this cup pass us by. Both times we arrived to escort a casket into church and approach an altar flanked with you holy men of God. Devoted in service to Truth, you were standing there like pillars of strength and compassion. You represented the reality of eternity when we were tempted to wallow in the temporal. You represented Resurrection! We needed you and you were there, many of you, silently screaming back to us that we were not alone. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together. We never walk alone. Those two funerals changed me in many ways, but the royal priesthood standing up for us is something I will hold dear forever.

I have felt since our son died seven years ago, that if his death helped bring one beloved soul home to our Savior then he did not suffer or die in vain. I would suffer it all again knowing how precious every one of us is to our Lord. The same is true for our daughter. So many beautiful testimonies of faith stemmed from her death and I know there is so much wisdom in allowing her to leave us. I freely offer Michael and Anna and trust in Jesus to work it all for good. I simply wanted you to know that by your faith this one soul has been soothed and saved.

From the very depths of my heart, I thank you:
I Thank you for answering your cell phone in the middle of the night when a terrified and desperate mother needed to know you were praying for her child.
I Thank you for going to the hospital, instead of to bed, to offer prayers and comfort when my mother was afraid and facing the end of her life.
I Thank you for the many house calls to unite our family in prayer when our son was dying of cancer.                                                                                                                                  I thank you for bringing Mass to our home when we were too distraught to bring ourselves to Mass.
I thank you Bishop for the personal hand-written, snail-mailed letter of encouragement and affirmation that renewed my strength again and again.
I thank you for your service to the kingdom of God.
I thank you for standing for truth, especially in the face of growing persecution for daring to speak it. The thing is, your faithful flock knows the Truth deep within and we need you to reaffirm it. The voices of the culture would have us buy into the lies and we might be tempted, if not for your voice of truth. As long as there is a spark of light, there cannot be total darkness.
I thank you for your prayers and Masses. You will likely never know what they have meant to me this side of Heaven.

May you have the courage to stand strong in this world as the tide rises against all that you have given your very lives for, and the fortitude to suffer for the Truth no matter what lies ahead. Just as you have reminded me time and time again, when you walk in obedience and service to the Truth, you never walk alone.
With gratitude, admiration and love,
Karen Pullano

“The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.  When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ∼St. Jean Vianney