It is Lent. Ash Wednesday came and went. Here at Te Deum Hermitage, this nothing consecrated Catholic hermit spent the day reflecting, praying, and painfully applying drywall mud in precarious heights of two-story stairwell opening.
Rather than ashes on my forehead, this year there was drywall mud spiritually formed in the sign of the cross. Worn out by evening and flopped on floor mattress in my little cell room, I physically touched my forehead with finger and traced an invisible cross. It was most difficult to do as the right thumb throbbed from a flared up drill whip injury, and my right elbow shot nerve pain from what is called "Carpenter's Elbow": overuse.
This week I've been reminded of how mournful we Christians--seemingly particularly Catholic Christians--can be. I have exemplified much mournfulness in the past, particularly when a newly converted Catholic over two decades ago.
It is good to reflect upon the seriousness of Christ's sacrifice for our sins and his sufferings in securing our salvation. It is good to consider the sorrows of His mother Mary. It is good to seriously review our sins and to beg God's forgiveness and ask His mercy. There is a difference between mournfulness and reverence, fear of the Lord, awe in God.
I received a letter from my spiritual father a week ago. In it he mentioned he's given up on watching the evening news. The divisiveness and political negativity caused frustration and anger; he swtiched from secular television stations and has been watching the news on Eternal Word Television Network as well as viewing a couple other programs on EWTN.
A couple nights later, I dreamed of my spiritual father speaking to me and offering some guidance. While upon waking I could not recall the specifics, I knew it had to do with my own using of YouTube news clips which I have used rather weakly and pathetically as time-taking prayer fodder but mostly as background noise, pain distraction....
I can gather the news of the world in order to pray for particular persons and situations, and then broaden the prayers to themes of needs of persons everywhere, without the live stream of chatter, mostly repetitive. I can glimpse headlines and pick out pertinent video clips--far more efficiently and screened from too much noise and distraction. Not the best for a hermit whose Nine S' platform to the Gospel Rule of Life includes silence and simplicity....
So I decided to see if EWTN does some program live streaming. Yes, it does. I'd not viewed this Catholic broadcasting station for over a decade--as I had moved and did not have cable and got rid of television. At the time, the network did not live stream programs on computer--at least my laptop was not capable of downloading if available.
I watched or more accurately, listened, to some programs including the Mass while I mudded drywall. I viewed some EWTN during rest breaks when icing my thumb and elbow.
My mood shifted through the day and into the next. Mournfulness entered in, and I found myself realizing that EWTN seems to have shifted in tone, for some programs. I looked at their weekly schedule and noticed that there were frequent re-runs from years past--all fine to offer--but that there seemed a mournfulness in the recitations of prayers and sometimes in the celebration of Mass.
Of course, praying and Mass can be somber and serious celebrations. (I notice my own ironic juxtaposition of "mournful" or "somber" with "celebration.") Perhaps the mournfulness I was experiencing had something to do with flashbacks of memory when I used to watch EWTN with delight and absorption of the excellent programming--all fresh and new to me then. Perhaps much had to do with the reality of the network's founder, the late Mother Angelica, being very much alive and healthy, not having yet suffered a major stroke.
And, at the time in my own life, the reason I began watching EWTN so much was that I'd been nastily ousted from a ministry I'd started, by the grace of God--a rapidly growing and successful soup kitchen. (The devil was involved, and there were the usual plagues of envies and gossip surrounding my needing to die on my sword so that the efforts could go forth without the obstacles thrown in our way.) So part of the mournfulness might have been the reminder of "back then."
Yet, the next day that I listened to and viewed the network programs, the same sense of mournfulness persisted, and I realized that there was not the same enthusiasm and freshness, probably not the donations, and no doubt a shift that occurs when a founder of an organization no longer leads. I was reminded of what occurred within 100 years of St. Francis' life and times, of his followers: a demise, a downturn. Then Jesus chose St. Colette to come forth from her anchorhold and help reform the Franciscans.
I suspect EWTN is going through one such transition period. But not to place my own sense of the mournfulness of my recent viewing experience as accurate, I consider the aspect of mournfulness that I've expressed from my own Catholic Christian journey.
Yes, I've been mournful plenty of times. Part of the mournfulness has been in trying to fit into what I perceived as somber and serious Mass protocol. Or the sorrows I had when first discovering the often-persecuted mystics and the tremendous suffering of the saints. Or my own sorrows when confessing my sins in a Sacrament that I knew nothing of in my Protestant first-44 years of my life. Then, also, is the mournfulness of my constant and rather high-level physical suffering of the past 32 years since debilitating and life-altering car accident.
I have more than enough mournfulness in my life. This reality came to me on Ash Wednesday. I don't need more mournfulness--not in mournful group recitations of verbal prayers or even mental prayers. I don't need to hear sorrowful voices preaching and teaching--the mournfulness is sorrowfully an overload on my own painful physical existence when my heart is seeking to sing as antidote to the woes.
Now, this is not to say I know what Jesus wants. Perhaps He wants mournfulness and an emphasis on sorrows and suffering. God knows--and He is God made Man--that there are sorrows of the world and sins galore that reduce our lives to troubles a' plenty.
Into my memories came a vision and locution two decades ago. I was in Mass at a convent near my then-home, and my body was in its usual pain. I popped a question from within my soul, as I cheekly asked Jesus, "So what are You up to, today, Jesus?" He appeared to me right there and then, superimposed in front of the priest preaching at the altar. He appeared bearing His cross, crown of thorns on His head, bleeding and bent with suffering.
"I am suffering, " Jesus said, "and that is well enough for YOU."
That was it--end of vision, end of message. And I knew that yes, suffering was good enough for me, too, for that day and many days, and for any day.
However, I have asked Jesus and His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary--my mother, our mother, Mother of His Church--if they want me to be sorrowful, mournful, somber--now, in general? I know in the ensuing years, I have complained about being in Mass and noticing the heaviness of people filing in, looking miserably sad, not smiling before, during, or after Mass.
At one point, I had a major consideration as I thought of Jesus looking out at us from His Tabernacle, and seeing our glum and miserable faces whether or not we were listening and celebrating with attentiveness during Mass. (I know, for there have been times that I was wearing a cloak of misery and looking glum back at Jesus as He looked at me.
Does it really help Jesus if I am mournful even when He is suffering, or when His mother is suffering, for they surely do suffer even now at times, when they see us in our messes and struggles, our sufferings--of which most if not all are the result of our own sins and of being recipients of sinful thoughts and actions of others?
I don't have an answer yet. But I decided that watching and listening to voices mournful are not positive in my already mournfully painful existence. For awhile now, I have yearned for balance and thus have sought with all my body, heart, mind and spirit to love God in Himself and to love others as God loves! This seeking has not at all been mournful or somber, and the seriousness of it is not sad but rather is a delightful, fervent, enthusiastic, and positively expectant desire.
Then I considered that the secular news does not anger me or frustrate. Thankfully, I can get the gist with a video clip or some headlines, and the chattering pundits can be muted or clicked off once I gain the prayer needs. And it is the work of my hermit existence at least for now, to pray for all people in addition to the needs of the Church. I emphasize--my work for now includes the temporal secular world in addition to the temporal church world.
Today I will try drywall sanding with left arm. My right arm needs rest and healing, and one day will not be enough but is what I can offer, again, for now. The Order of the Present Moment is always about what is, for now, in the present moment. Perhaps tomorrow the right arm will need another day of rest, or not.
Perhaps I will listen to an EWTN program or two, such as I notice they still have beautiful music on Sunday afternoons; and not all the priests celebrate Mass as mournfully as others. The program hosts are doing their loving best, and reality is that maybe the mournfulness I sense has to do with loss of what was but still can be even more so, in future. I am praying for the network, regardless! So much good EWTN provides, more than I could provide in my whole life! I pray for others to not sense mournfulness, for it might just be me and God's way of guiding what He wants of me for now.
For now, my body, mind, heart, and spirit need joy, not additional mournfulness. There is mournfulness enough, and as a Catholic, my experience has been that my past going along with mournfulness and adding to the collective mournfulness--has not produced much positive encouragement for others to embrace what we ought know as the Way, the Truth, Beauty, Goodness and the Light.
Thus, a line from the Psalm on Ash Wednesday arrows my heart:
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.