by Father Mark Goldasich
This past Monday, I hit a wall — not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. It was the pandemic wall and I found myself bouncing between sad and mad.
Ever since St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been faithful to the recommended safety protocols. I’ve stayed home, worn a mask in public and practiced social distancing. I did venture out, however, a couple of weeks ago to the barbershop — this, as a result of parishioners commenting that I was beginning to resemble Albert Einstein (the crazy hair, not the brains!).
And then, Monday, I found myself asking, “Is this really making any difference?” It seemed that everywhere I went, the majority of people were not masked nor were they practicing social distancing. Looking at Facebook further darkened my mood as I saw pictures of people hugging and mugging for the camera.
In the back of my mind were the haunting reports of spikes in COVID-19 cases around the country and in the Kansas City area. Honestly, I wanted to scream. (And I did. But at the wrong person. Apologies to Leaven managing editor Anita!)
Late that evening, a story I’d read a long time ago came to mind:
There was a professor who walked into the classroom and wrote three numbers on the blackboard: 2 4 8. He then turned to the class and asked, “So, what’s the solution?”
Some students said, “Add them up for a total of 14.” The professor shook his head.
Others said, “It’s a progression, and 16 is the next number.” Again, the professor shook his head.
A group in the back shouted out, “64!” Again, a shake of the head.
“No,” said the professor. “You all hurried into finding a solution, but you failed to ask, ‘What is the problem?’ Unless you ask that key question, you cannot know what the problem is, nor can you possibly find the solution.” (Found in Brian Cavanaugh’s “Fresh Packet of Sower’s Seeds, Third Planting.”)
When I took a step back and asked what the real problem was, I discovered it wasn’t so much “out there” as within me. Once I realized that, my eyes were opened to two “helps” that were right in front of me.
The first was a small icon written about the Gospel story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 8:23-27). You remember: A fierce storm erupts and the boat the disciples are in is getting swamped. All the while, Jesus is asleep in the boat. The frightened disciples wake up Jesus who says, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Immediately, Jesus rebukes the storm and there’s great calm.
Basically, Jesus was saying, “Don’t focus on the storm. Focus on me.” In other words, if Jesus is in your boat and calm enough to sleep through a storm, don’t worry. Only if Jesus is there screaming hysterically should you be concerned.
I realized that my focus was on the wrong thing: I was seeing only the storm of the pandemic and what I perceived as people not taking it seriously enough. I experienced a calmness when I shifted my focus to Jesus instead.
The second “help” was a book on my kitchen table: “Finding God in the Mess: Meditations for Mindful Living,” by Jim Deeds & Brendan McManus, SJ (Loyola Press, Chicago; 2017; 120 pgs.; $12.95). This volume is a “workbook” on four themes: life, struggle, pain and growth. Each theme is divided into seven or eight meditations.
Every meditation begins with a photo, a one- or two-page reading and then a few reflection questions with some space to write your answers. When I saw that the first meditation was on the Sacred Heart, I felt that God was gently bopping me on the head with a sledgehammer, as I read: “At these times (when I’m sad or mad), we need somewhere we can be enriched and renewed. We, just like the blood within us, need to go to the source (the heart), be filled again, and then re-enter everyday life.”
So, will I be throwing caution to the wind? Hardly. Instead, I’ll search diligently for God in all this messiness and continue my safety protocols — not only for my health and for the common good — but as an example and encouragement to others.
By the way, if I ever do discover that Jesus appears hysterical, I’ll let you know!