I recently received a couple of catch-up texts from a friend I have failed to keep in touch with after our recent move. I have been thinking of her so much lately, but every time I reached for the phone to text her, I had to catch a child who was falling off of a counter-height stool (what was I thinking, storing the drinking glasses so far out of reach of my children??), grab the baby from the 5-year-old who just loves to hold him and swears he won’t drop him… again… or run with an open hand to catch the vomit my child is spewing (a maternal instinct I will never understand). I was caught off guard and a bit surprised at my confusion at such a simple question. “How are YOU doing?” she asked as a follow up to my life summarizing text. I truly didn’t know how to answer. Life is crazy and busy, and I feel pulled in a million directions, but how am I? If I’m being honest, I’m not great. My kiddos have taken turns being sick for the better part of the last month, and it has really thrown a wrench in my normal spiritual routine. I rely heavily on daily Mass as the cornerstone of my spiritual life, and in the last month, I’ve been to SUNDAY Mass once (for very valid caring for flu-stricken children reasons). Without my routine, I struggle to stay connected.
Our morning prayers are usually said in the car on the way to school and are altogether forgotten if we stay home due to illness. Our night prayers are punctuated by constant corrections, like “don’t stand on top of your headboard!” and “why are you pouring water in your brother’s bed??” that just seem to kill the emotional reward I hope to find, though know better than to expect at this point. I try to spend the first ten minutes of naptime catching Jesus up on my day or saying a decade or two of the Rosary, but lately, sick kids are on asynchronous nap schedules, which cuts me deeply and on so many levels.
I know that I need the sacraments. I miss the Eucharist, and Jesus knows I need confession desperately, but those are challenging to receive when I too am taken down with the flu and have to quarantine myself from the community. It turns out that the “Mommy’s coming to wipe you as soon as I can get up from the couch” flus of my late 30s aren’t nearly as much fun as my “woohoo I get to miss school and watch movies all day!” flus of my youth. Ah to be young again… but I digress. It always amazes me that I can find myself in a deep dark hole, looking around, wondering how I ended up here, a withering branch, languishing in the hot midday sun, and not realize that I have again allowed myself to fall from The Vine - the One who gives me life and breath and hope and joy. When I fail to maintain that connection to God, it really should come as no surprise that the worries and pains of this world somehow suddenly seem overwhelming and insurmountable, and even hopeful good things in my life seem colored by a gray negativity.
My sister told me recently that St. Thomas More went to his martyrdom while joking with his executioner. He was so full of faith, so detached from the worries and concerns of this life, that even in the face of his own imminent death, he could find joy and humor, inevitably encouraging such faith in those around him, as faith and joy, much like the flu, are infectious. I have found that the most effective way of reconnecting to The Vine and reigniting our faith is through the sacraments. I love confession because it’s a reminder of Jesus’s intense love for us. He told St. Faustina the flames of his mercy were burning Him, as He desired so strongly to pour His mercy out to souls. He waits for us to come visit Him in the tabernacle, He longs to unite us to His Sacred Heart when we visit Him in adoration or receive Him in the Eucharist. All we need to do is show up with a contrite and open heart, and He’s there, so ready to fill our hearts and heal them.
But what about when we can’t get there? What can we do when we would be putting other people at risk by our presence at the Mass or other sacraments because we or someone under our care is ill? Then I think we need to find some good band-aids: reading a brief biographical summary of a saint’s life, a good old Divine Mercy Chaplet (3 pm is the ideal time to say it, and cell phone alarms are fantastic reminders), or decades of the Rosary interspersed throughout the day can be really helpful, but sometimes, at our lowest moment, a contrite “Jesus please come help me” can ignite a tiny but powerful spark to extinguish the darkness around us. Jesus is the source of light, the cause of all joy, and to find joy in this life, even amidst the sicknesses or sufferings of this world, we have to stay connected to Him.