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

The Voice God Uses

As we are within the season of Lent, we are expectantly listening for God to speak to areas of our hearts that need to be redeemed. I doubt that most practicing Catholics who approach this season with sincere intentions for repentance would be surprised to find that God has a specific message of conversion in store for them, but they might be surprised by the particular messenger He sends.

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine God speaking to me or I sit down for prayer desiring Him to do so, I have a good idea of what I expect Him to sound like and what I expect Him to say. Whether it be Lent, or any old time of the year, I often take for granted that I will recognize the sound of His voice and the tone of His message. He will meet my expectations exactly, right? I’m afraid that I have been proved wrong more often than not.

The problem with our expectations is that they are often rooted deeply in pride; they can be tied heavily to our emotions and formed from our deceitful heart condition. We expect the type of correction we feel we can tolerate, the one we have determined to be bearably fair. We are very good at looking just long enough to find a sin that isn’t too inconvenient or a means of conversion that won’t be too difficult. But Jeremiah 17:9 tells us: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” God, that’s who; and He’s the only one. His perfect comprehension of the state of our hearts and the root of our actions often results in His message sounding quite different from the pre-vetted ones we have conjured up for ourselves.

But it is not only His messages that often surprise us; His methods and messengers do as well. God is no respecter of persons, and He uses all kinds. He uses both the people from whom we have asked advice and those from whom we’d rather not hear. He uses both beautiful rhetoric and plain words. He uses brilliant minds and simple ones alike. He uses both saints and sinners.

I want God’s reproach to be palatable, and I want His messenger to handle my feelings with kid gloves. I want the corrections to be as sweetly worded as possible, so as to not trample my delicate emotions nor overlook my admirable achievements. Oh, pride. Oh, deceitful heart. In trying to place a protective hedge around it, I have blocked out the voice of the Father who wants to heal it and make it new.

And though the Father’s voice is one of love, he often uses sinners (just like you and me) in their sin to deliver his messages to us. He’s going to use the disrespectful child’s remark, the husband’s frank observation, the grumpy stranger in the grocery store, the gossiping woman in the carpool line, or the parent who never thinks you do anything right. I believe that it was Elisabeth Leseur who said that every time that someone offends you it is an opportunity for you to examine your own conscience. I think she’s right. If we are waiting for God to use perfect people to speak to us, then we will often miss the voice that He is using to show us where our hearts are deceiving us.

I’ve had to learn the hard way–usually kicking and screaming–that God’s going to get His message through to me one way or another. It’s truly a grace that that’s the case, that He doesn’t stop speaking when we are hard of hearing. Perhaps if I would listen sooner it wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow, but then again pride is always a hard pill to swallow. And isn’t it ultimately prideful for us to insist that had the message been more gentle we would have obeyed immediately? Our track records prove otherwise. What we require is humility to hear His voice, whatever the method or messenger. May we take to heart the Invitatory antiphon that we pray during Lent: “Today, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Just Around the Corner

We’ve all heard the expression: “Spring is just around the corner.” Well, today is officially the first day of Spring, and I’m staring out my window at beautiful………snow……..several inches of it. The blossoms and birds will be a little while longer. It’s Winter’s ironic joke and last hurrah.

Looking at the tree limbs and deck covered in piles of white, one would never think of Easter being a week and a half away. It’s hard to imagine that in a very short time we will have sunny 60-70 degree weather. Though the view from my window tempts me to think that Winter will be here for awhile, a glance at my calendar tells me otherwise.

I find this phenomenon — this contrast between the weather now and the weather soon coming — to offer a particularly timely meditation for the transition from Lent to Easter in our lives as Christ-followers, especially since we are almost to Holy Week on the liturgical calendar. Continue reading “Just Around the Corner”