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 (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

My Advent Plans

It’s that time. The liturgical year of the Church is drawing to a close, and we start again. Advent. This is perhaps the most difficult season in which to live intentionally, at least at first. But I find, being a convert to Catholicism, that as the years go by and liturgical habits take deeper root, the resting/waiting/reorienting becomes second-nature. I thought I would share some of my (*planned*) habits for this Advent season, and perhaps they will spark ideas for your life and family rhythms.

What I’m reading/contemplating/praying…

Here’s what’s in my book stack:

  • The Liturgy of the Hours — I don’t think that we can pick better for ourselves than what the Church has already selected for us to be praying and reading together. I’m excited about the Psalms, prayers and antiphons that await me during Morning Prayer and the selections from the Office Of Readings that I will be reading and praying with my husband.
  • Grounded in Hope Bible study — I lead a Walking With Purpose (WWP) study in my home (I’m also the co-ordinator for the program at my parish if you are local and want to join a study!), and this year my group is working through Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews. As always, the topic for the lesson we are currently on seems perfectly timed: REST! There is so much good Scripture and truth on this topic to apply during my Advent journey.
  • Be Still — Lisa Brenninkmeyer, the founder of WWP, just released a beautiful devotional for women that is full of reflections on Scripture and catechism passages. My husband surprise-gifted it to me (just ’cause he’s awesome), and I’m excited to have it in my reading stack. And yes…God’s clearly echoing this theme of “resting” in Him.
  • Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany — I’m so excited to jump into this one! This year I resolved to always be in a book of poetry, reading at least one poem a day. At the beginning of the year I discovered Malcolm Guite’s poetry compilations. He has a book for Lent as well, which was my Lenten poetry, and it was wonderful. If poetry isn’t part of your life, I encourage you to adopt the practice of “a poem a day”. This book during the season of Advent would be a great way to start this habit…and kick off the new liturgical year!

What I’m listening to…

Last year I revamped and shared my Spotify Advent playlists — traditional and contemporary — that I play aloud in our house throughout the days of Advent. So I have those; but our friend Fr. Matt Fish has shared his curated Advent playlist on Twitter, and it is fantastic. It will be on repeat around here! I think that intentional music selections are such a wonderful way to set the liturgical tone in the home, helping us to all enter into the message and waiting of Advent and then into the message and celebration of Christmas. The thing is, there is more amazing Advent-themed music out there than you have time to listen to through all of Advent; you just need to have it ready to go. So just click, “follow,” and you are all set!

What I’m doing with my family…

We continue our meaningful family traditions from years past:

  • Dinner Table Advent Candles — We have a tradition of rolling our own beeswax Advent candles with the kids (who love it!). It sounds fancier and more time consuming than it is. We usually get this kit (which makes three sets) and invite friends to make them with us. Throughout the Advent season we light the candle(s) and sing the first verse of “O Come Emmanuel” before we say the blessing for our dinner meal.
  • Jesse Tree — When my oldest was a baby, I made this quilted/felt Jesse Tree Advent Calendar. I decoupaged ornaments that correspond to passages in the Jesus Story Book Bible (there are lots of options on Etsy for these ornaments). The selected stories with corresponding ornament symbols unfold the story of salvation history. We read one story each morning from December 1 to 24. This is definitely my kids favorite part of Advent…and mine too. I’ve been know to get choked up at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s beautiful diction.
  • St. Nicholas Day — The kids “put out their shoes” before bed on December 5th, and when they wake up on the Feast of St. Nicholas they have been filled with clementines and chocolate coins. And each child gets a Christmas book to add to our collection.
  • O Antiphons — I have shared here about how we incorporate O Antiphons in evening family prayer time from December 17-23.
  • Distinct Decor — We like to wait on Christmas decorations so that they are fresh for the Christmas season, and we like to let Advent have it’s own progression of decor to usher in Christmas. Decorations in the home are great signifiers of the liturgical season for the whole family. In our home, there’s usually a purple cloth on the prayer table, the Advent wreath on the kitchen table, and a gradual nativity scene (baby Jesus gets hidden somewhere in the house until Christmas morning!). Around the final week of Advent, we put up our Christmas tree with a simple purple ribbon around it and most of the other more time-consuming decorations for the house. But we wait to put all the ornaments on the tree until December 24th.

Why Advent is significant for me…

When we first became Catholic (about six years ago), I didn’t really understand the distinctness of the Advent season. I have a chapter on the liturgical seasons in my forthcoming book, and in it I describe my journey to understanding the significance of Advent, particularly as an antidote to our commercialized inculturation of Christmas. Living fully in the Advent season, as with living fully in any season of the life of the Church, ultimately focuses us on the meaning and consequence of the Incarnation. Living the liturgical year with intention helps us to conceive of our own lives in the story of salvation history, to meditate on the life of Christ, and to contemplate and live expectantly for our final home with Him in heaven.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey