Our Circumstances in His Story

I write this on the Feast of St. Joseph, during the first week of our American coronavirus quarantine. A week ago yesterday the World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, ushering in a temporary (how long remains to be seen) halt to our normal routine and pace of activity. Unfortunately, we are already getting a glimpse of the devastating impact that such necessary measures will have on our economy and certain people’s financial and physical livelihood. Our prayers rise to heaven for the sick, dying, and dead, as well as all of those faced with economic loss and destitution. 

As we recognize these challenges and tragedies, many of us Americans are faced with a different reality. We are not missing paychecks (yet), we have plenty of provisions to keep us from starving (perhaps we are guilty of taking more than we reasonably need), and we and our loved ones are currently safe and healthy. Yet we find ourselves disturbed, frustrated, anxious or afraid. Some of us perhaps have legitimate reasons for anxiety and fear. Others of us may be struggling with more superficial disappointments, and we are failing to practice gratitude and be faithful stewards of the circumstances that we have been dealt and the time in which we have been providentially placed to live.

Some perhaps face the cancellation of events or travel that were long in the making; and being forced to relinquish those fondly anticipated plans has brought bitter disappointment. Others perhaps sorely miss human contact and the sustaining rhythm of social activities. Still others have become despondent at the disruption of daily and weekly public worship services. Certainly, all Catholics I know who are currently unable to receive the Eucharist feel great sorrow. Others just have a great deal of trouble sitting still and enjoying slowness and solitude. We could discuss the significance of these disappointments, argue over which ranks greatest in terms of loss, justify our feelings, or express frustration about how well or efficiently things are being handled. But ultimately, in terms of our spiritual response to a widespread crisis like this, we all have the same opportunity. 

In his morning reflection on today’s gospel reading, Bishop Robert Barron said this about St. Joseph’s response to his life-long interaction with crisis after crisis: 

“The little we know about Joseph is that he experienced heartbreak, fear unto death, and a parent’s deepest anxiety. But each time, he read what happened to him as a Theo-drama, not an ego-drama. This shift in attitude is what made Joseph the patron of the universal Church.”

As I sat with the gospel and Barron’s words this morning, I reflected on my own typical response to crisis or the disappointment of my plans. Am I living a Theo-drama or an ego-drama? My own personal crisis in the midst of our current social upheaval amounts to nothing more than the disappointment of my plans. But as I continue to reflect, I realize that this reality is only a slight amplification of my daily struggle to let go of what I want and resign myself fully to God’s providence. I keep wanting to write the story my way, in each daily detail. When God reveals a different narrative, I often don’t want to accept it. In my head I have written it all out, and the disappointment floods in when God says—either with a whisper to my heart or the booming voice of circumstance—that’s not the story. 

There’s a wonderful and deeply challenging little book that many of you have probably read and is worthy of continual re-reads: Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade. The message is so simple—the circumstances of our life are God’s will; we need only to abandon our own will to His in that moment, realizing that where we find ourselves by divine providence is where we are meant to live, fully loving God and others. 

We have all heard many people remark recently that it’s no mistake we are living through these challenging times during Lent. Living abandoned to God’s will, according to His plan and His story means that we recognize the daily providence in our circumstances at all times. Our current opportunity is always our opportunity—saying “yes” to God’s story in our circumstances. The lie from the enemy is that circumstances that we don’t want are interrupting our story and disrupting our happiness. God’s truth is that our joy and peace is never disrupted when we willingly live in the only story there is—His.

Copyright 2020 Jessica Ptomey

Podcast (March): Ernest Hemingway Stories

In 2020 The Catholic Reading Challenge is reading 24 different short stories by 12 different authors. Each month we will focus on one author, reading two stories by that author. During each of our bi-weekly podcast episodes (on the 15th & 30th of the month) we will discuss the stories in turn.

We are reading stories by Ernest Hemingway in March, and here are our selections:

Both of these stories can be found in a collection like this one that we have on our bookshelf. If you want to print off free versions of these stories, there are PDF versions:

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

“In Another Country”

Hemingway is going to be a pretty different read from O’Connor and Forster, both in style and themes. Also, our second story is really short! I think we will have some interesting discussions about theme and what an author is able to accomplish in a very few pages. As we’ve discussed before, good authors capture reality, what they know to be true of the world. It’s always fascinating to see how perspective differs between authors, where it is that each one chooses to focus the gaze.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Podcast (February): E. M. Forster Stories

In 2020 The Catholic Reading Challenge is reading 24 different short stories by 12 different authors. Each month we will focus on one author, reading two stories by that author. During each of our bi-weekly podcast episodes (on the 15th & 30th of the month) we will discuss the stories in turn.

We are reading stories by E. M. Forster in February, and here are our selections:

The only Forster that I have read is “The Celestial Omnibus”, and I was so amazed by it that I thought we should include Forster in our selection of authors for the year. You have probably heard of his famous novels, a couple of which have been made into films, even if his name is new to you.

Both of these stories can be found in this Kindle collection that is only 99 cents! It contains other stories and four of his most famous novels, which is a fantastic deal. You could find these stories in other paperbacks if you prefer. If you want to print off free versions of these stories, I did find PDF versions of “The Celestial Omnibus” and “The Machine Stops”. You can also search YouTube for some free audio recordings of these.

I’m really looking forward to our podcast discussions of these! I think the conversation will take us important places.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey