As I was preparing to leave for college way too long ago, my dad told me to be sure to introduce myself to the “young priest” at the parish I would be attending. Dad knew Father because they had served on a committee together. Talk at that time was that this priest would one day be a bishop.
I did introduce myself, and we developed a good relationship. Ultimately we both moved back to the area where we both grew up. He remained a fixture in my life. Decades later, when my dad was dying, Father was instrumental in bringing him back to the Church. I am forever grateful to him.
That “young priest” retired several years ago. I look at him and wonder how that happened because, to paraphrase from a song in Fiddler on the Roof, “I don’t remember growing older. When did he?”
I think about my age a lot lately, in part because my husband and I are about to move to Nolensville, Tennessee to be near our daughter. I have been a Wisconsinite my entire life, so for me, this is a pretty significant change.
My husband and I began our married lives in the house we currently live in. I have many memories of loved ones here. There was the beautiful afternoon when my mother and I sat in the front yard under the tree while I was pregnant, discussing what it would be like to be a parent. I can show you where our daughter spoke her first word and where she took her first step.
Every year the peonies that bloom so gracefully remind me of my mother-in-law, who loved gardening and who enhanced our property when she planted them.
Our parents and my husband’s uncle helped us to move in. All of them are gone now.
How did I get to this age so quickly? I am now at a stage in my life where I frequently and accurately use the phrase “decades ago.” More and more of my memories are of people no longer on the earth. Discarding items as we pack is reminding me of how much of my life is behind me.
When I was an idealistic teenager, I desired to change the world. Music was (and still is) my passion. Music always helped me to feel closer to God, so I imagined somehow it would be through music that I would make the world a better place.
Over the years, that aspiration has ebbed and flowed. It was exceptionally strong after the birth of my daughter, Marissa. I wanted her to live in a perfect world. Of course, since this planet is not heaven, that is not possible.
Marissa is 25 now. I have proven I do not have much of an influence in the overall scheme of life.
I realize that God is not calling me to greatness as the world measures greatness. He is not calling me to change the world in the ways I had always envisioned. Still, He IS calling me to grow in holiness. As I look back at my life, I see some areas where I think I did well and others where I need forgiveness.
I believe I was at my best in serving God when I took care of my parents and my husband’s mom in their last years and as they were dying. My mother-in-law was the last of them to pass. She died in 2014. Since then, though I have kept busy, I am wondering if I am at all useful to Him. I am still walking the earth, so presume there is a purpose for me. Maybe it is as simple as a gracious Creator giving me more time to grow in holiness.
Sometimes at Mass, I find myself thinking about the years we have worshipped at this parish. I think about the faces I used to see and notice the newer ones. The building has been renovated, but in my mind, I can still see the leaky roofs and the old confessional. I recall the various priests we have had during those years. Some would say a lot has changed.
Sometimes I consider the history of the Church in general. During Mass, I might find myself thinking about all who have gone before and all who will come after me, both as worshippers and celebrants. At times I even wonder who has sat where I am sitting, and who will be sitting there 100 years from now. I note the ritual of the centuries, taking comfort in the unchanging Mass.
This weekend I went to Mass specifically on Saturday evening to say goodbye to my friend Carol. She is also leaving the area. Her husband accepted a job several states away. Carol does not have family here like my husband and I do, so she does not expect to be back. I will likely not see her again this side of heaven.
Yes, I cried. So did she.
In my emotional state of mind, I looked for old friends. It was not long before I spotted Dennis, who told me years ago that he does not receive Eucharist because he does not believe in the divinity of Jesus. I rejoice and praise God to see that this has changed.
A bit further away sat Kathy, whose husband, also a friend, died of cancer several years ago. Her son was with her. Until recently he lived out of town, so I had not seen him in awhile. I remember when he was a very young altar server. Once again I paraphrase Sunrise, Sunset: “Wasn’t it yesterday when he was small?”
Then there was Mary, whose daughter died in 2006, a few months after my mother. One night five years later, Mary and I were talking. I told her I think of her often. I commented that I could not imagine how she gets through every day. She replied that “getting through” each day is all she does. She takes it one step at a time. Mary also related to me that prayer is what keeps her going.
When we move, I will learn new names and the stories that belong to the new face. Yet some things stay constant. The Mass is still the Mass.
Recently my husband and I went to lunch with some friends. On one wall, the restaurant featured the poem The Dash, by Linda Ellis. It is a famous poem that you likely have already heard. The Dash speaks of the life lived between your date of birth and date of death, represented by a dash on your tombstone.
It seemed an appropriate reminder at this time in my life. I seem to have time left between those dates. Is there something more God has planned for me? How would I know?
I need to keep reminding myself that God makes use of older people all the time. One of my favorite women in Scripture is the prophetess Anna, who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” (Luke 2:37, NABRE.) This is faithfulness. Saint Matthew could have used her as an example when he wrote: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:21, NABRE.)
The prophetess Anna shows me where to start if I want to continue to serve God well. Prayer is the first step. It is how we align ourselves with God. I know I need regular, scheduled prayer time to keep from slipping spiritually. At one time in my life, I used to say I prayed all day, but that prayer was generally while I was in the midst of doing things. There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it is a good thing. Yet if we only pray as we are busy, how do we quiet ourselves to listen?
Without a plan, my prayer life is going to decline. I can say that God is important to me, but what good are words without action? My actions will show my priorities.
Mass is a big part of my daily prayer where I currently live. That will change. I go to Mass at noon now, but most daily Masses in my new area are in the morning.
As an insomniac, morning Mass does not work for me. I have tried. One morning I attended an early Mass with a friend one morning, and afterward, she turned to me and said, “How did you like the priest?” What she meant was “How did you like the homily?” I told her I had no opinion because I had not heard it. It was all I could do to stay awake for that half hour.
Thankfully, I found a parish near our new home that offers noon Mass once a week. It also provides Adoration once a week. I plan to put both of those on my schedule.
For the rest of the week, I will pray at home. We are using one of the bedrooms as both a prayer room and a music room since the two seem to go so well together. I can go to that room at noon, the same time I always went to daily Mass.
Music is still as important to me as it ever was. It continues to move me to God in a way I cannot describe. I plan to schedule a regular time to play my clarinet and maybe learn guitar or other instruments. My daughter and I have spoken of the possibility of finding places to be involved in music. After all, we will be living near “Music City” –Nashville, TN. I have wondered if God is giving me the opportunity to renew an old love. I would be especially delighted to perform with Marissa one day.
Recently I heard a homily about trust. Maybe, rather than straining to hear God’s voice, I need to trust that I will be where He wants me even if I do not realize it. It could be that God is showing me the importance of faithfulness. I imagine it is even possible that in coming to this conclusion, I have heard the still, small voice of God.