My social media persona is guided by the old maxim “if you don’t have anything nice to say then…” yadda-yadda. So, I’ve been relatively silent on social media. Every time I’ve felt the urge to complain, I see someone lamenting a much worse scenario, and keep my mouth shut. When I want to express how much I’ve missed the Mass, I remember that my clergy has asked me to suffer patiently so that we will not be guilty of any unintended harm. So, I don’t complain. But, as may be the case for everyone, it seems that every time I look at some part of my life and say “well at least I got that going for me” it crumbles before my eyes. It’s like one of those run-on gags where the character keeps saying things could be worse (then they are) and finally somebody punches him in the mouth. Since my last article, my personal calamities have run the gamut from severe health problems in my family including one death (not Covid-19) and an ever more precarious and stressful work life. Hell, everyone else can probably say the same, right? Additionally, I had two events happen back to back during an already bad week that gave me all the excuse I needed to get drunk and listen to the closing song of Fiddler on The Roof (Anatevka) on repeat.
First, I learned my priest, Father Tom Coyte, whom I am beyond fond of, is retiring after 46 years of service. Then, I found out my kids’ Catholic School (Saint Catherine of Siena) will not survive the pandemic’s financial consequences. Yes, what follows is grandiose hyperbole: I felt as if my life had been blasted like Hiroshima then blasted again in Nagasaki because I didn’t wave the surrender flag up quick enough.
Now my initial reaction to situations like these is consider all those who are less fortunate than I, or who may be even more impacted by the same bombs dropped in our faith communities. Nothing wrong with this program except that if you try hard enough you’ll always find someone who has got it worse than you, which means you’ll never be able to validate your sorrows—which leads to crying in the shower or similar scenes. Plus, who wants to spend their time looking to the plight of others to cheer themselves up? Such a method leads to rampant condescension and patronization.
So, what then? Time likes these make you want to get lit rather than be the light of the world. Well after racking my brains (rather than punishing my liver) for a couple of days and I’ve come up with what I’m calling positive rationalizations for negative situations. Yes, I’m sure hundreds of phycologists and gurus have come up with a similar method, so I’m not claiming anything new here.
“And He was in the stern of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. And they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher does it not concern you that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38)
Let’s admit we are sad when we are sad. To act like we don’t feel sad would make us look inhuman, and who wants to join a church full of people you can never live up to? However, to go on wailing and crying continually about our situation is not only a bad reflection of who we are as a church, but it’s also a blatant devaluation of the gift of our faith in general.
“And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and he said to the sea: ‘Silence. Be stilled.’ And the wind ceased. And a great tranquility occurred. And he said to them: ‘Why are you afraid?’ Do you still lack faith?” (Mk 4:39-40)
Now I’ve grieved losing my parish priest who has had such a huge impact on my spiritual life. Father Tom Coyte made me believe that I was worthy to serve Christ (drinking, smoking, hooligan though I am). By feeling worthy to serve I’ve also felt capable of bettering myself too. Father Tom has served the church for 46 years. What an accomplishment. In an era where people outside the faith look at you and say, “you let your children around a Catholic priest?” as if you put them in a tiger cage I can point to men like Father Tom who (like most priests) represent what I call the “un-celebrated majority”: the good men of our clergy who our faith should be judged on. Father Tom has run the good race, it’s time for his reward. To be even more blunt: Father is old, sometimes I must resist the urge to ask him if he served merlot or cabernet to the bishops assembled at the Council of Trent. I’m sure we (the archdiocese) couldn’t just give him a license to drive the E-Z chair unless there was someone to take his place, though. And, from what I’ve seen, our new priest is young (or at least closer in age to me than to Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI). I am encouraged by this because it means we have a priest who’s completed his journey to the vocation in an age where The Church understands what is needed to prevent scandals. This also means we have a man who chose to serve God in this vocation in an era when many faithful ran away from The Church. I don’t know this man personally, yet, but I see this as an example of courage. Courage is contagious.
“God’s love calls us to move beyond fear. We ask God for the courage to abandon ourselves unreservedly, so that we might be molded by God’s grace, even as we cannot see where that path may lead us.”- St. Ignatius Loyola
Courage is what’s needed considering my second problem—yet another school closing. Three years ago, I decided to switch to Catholic Schools after my oldest was having a tough time in public schools. My youngest was about to start kindergarten and I wanted him to have a much different experience than his older brother, too. To say it was a great decision was an understatement. My oldest was thrilled, blossomed, and excelled. My youngest took to school way better than we ever expected. Then…our parish school paused operations to regroup and try to come up with a viable school for the future. We went to another Catholic School, and we continued to see amazing things happening with our kids (although nothing compared to our original parish school). Then…Covid-19 and you know the rest. So, what’s the upside of this?
Our original parish school, which paused operations to regroup, has reopened and is surviving the pandemic. Now I can bring my support back to this school as it moves forward with a new vision for the future. The people who choose to teach in Catholic schools know that they face an uncertain economic climate on top of lower pay or benefits than a public-school teacher. They do it because they believe in the mission. The people who believe are the ones who make the difference. Our entire faith began with a very small, convicted, group of believers. Our church has faced many challenges in its history and when “Catholics of Convenience” flee The Church, it is always the actions of the small devoted groups that lead a revival. Sometimes it’s a single person who refuses to abandon the mission, who turns the tide. Consider Saint Francis of Assisi, just for starters.
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”– Saint Francis of Assisi
I’ll bet every Saint you can think of fits into this category. It’s the tough times that create Saints. If you look at our history, it’s the times that are full of confidence and celebration—and consumption—that lead to the next scandal. It’s a cycle. Catholic Schools are closing right now, true. Even so, the people who are refusing to throw in the towel (teachers, students, parents) are exactly the ones I want my sons to be around right now.
Things aren’t great, but people are achieving greatness. Saints are in the making. And I’ll be damned (literally) if I must explain to God why I didn’t support the people who are trying to hold our faith together.
“If God sends you many sufferings it is a sign that He has great plans for you, and certainly wants to make you a saint.”– St. Ignatius of Loyola