Friday, May 30, 2014

St. Rita "Be Careful What You Wish for...You Might Get it."

St. Rita at Chris Hart Studio
I have spent much of my life wishing for something that never happened.  Thank goodness!  I have found over the years that the things I dream about are sometimes best left as dreams, where I can savor the fantasy rather than deal with the reality. St. Rita reminds us to be cautious of thoughtlessly wishing for things that bring with them unforeseen problems.  I have become acutely  aware of unintended consequences that result from decisions I blithely make throughout my day.  Some are easy to work around or simple to solve but sometimes I misjudge the seriousness of what can happen, leaving me wishing I had known then what I know now.

St. Rita is one of my favorite saints.  She is the Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and Difficult Situations.  She is the saint to pray to for challenging circumstances, infertility, victims of spousal abuse, the forgotten, widows, against loneliness and bodily ills.   She is usually painted in a black nun's habit holding the crucifix with a small red dot called a stigmata on her forehead  As St. Rita meditated on the image of Christ, a small wound appeared on her forehead as if the Crown of Thorns encircled her head. For 15 years she bore the stigmata, the symbol of her dedication to the Divine.  Throughout her life she saw her prayers granted under terribly painful circumstances but she never lost faith.         

St. Rita Statue from Chris Hart Studio
My mother used to say "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it". Now I know she was channeling St. Rita.  Once I wished I didn't have to go to school and the next morning I woke up with a horrible fever and had to go to the doctor instead.  Another time when I was married, I wished my husband would get fit, lose some weight and quit smoking..  When he did, it seemed every attractive woman was flirting with him and I found myself complaining and insecure, wishing I hadn't opened that Pandora's box.. Once I was in the midst of fantasizing about a career change and suddenly it happened for me in a most disturbing and uncontrollably painful way. I got the new career.  Along with it came several years of reassessment and introspection and emotional recovery. While I would say now it was something I am grateful happened, it was still personally agonizing .       

In spite of wishing to become a nun, St Rita married a very cruel man and had twin sons.  She prayed for her husband to stop abusing her.  Her beatings ended when her husband was killed in a violent murder.  Her sons were obligated to avenge their father’s death but St. Rita prayed that her sons would not commit the sin of murder. She convinced them to join the army and go far away.  It was during this time they contracted the flu and both died.  It was after these events that St. Rita was finally accepted as an Augustinian nun. So in a sense, St. Rita got what she wanted....Her husband stopped beating her.  Her sons were not murderers.  She became a nun.  Her prayers were answered but her dreams were shattered.  That’s what my mom meant when she warned “Be careful what you wish for.....”   

It is so easy to want things to be different and to pine away for things you don't have without any regard for what may happen once you get them.  That's why I keep St. Rita near my bed.  At the end of my day she is a reminder to not casually wish for things to be different, for people I am upset with to be silenced, for big changes in job or relationships.   She reminds me to be in the moment, grateful for what is and hopeful for the future.  To wish for something else diminishes where we are.  It exposes us to the potential of unintended consequences that significant change can bring.  Sometimes the gain is tiny while the losses are huge and sometimes the risk and pain are worth it.  Wishes are prayers, not to be taken lightly.  St. Rita makes us thoughtful and aware of what comes to us when our dreams collide with reality.                       



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Which Photos Will Be Used for the Slideshow of My Life? Ask St. Veronica, Patron Saint of Photographers

My blessed mother, Mary,
This Mother's Day is the first one I have spent without my mom.  I am not so sure it will ever be any less lonely for me.  There is no end to the memories that come with the day. This was the day I usually planted her vegetable garden and the flowers for her deck.  Mother's Day falls on the day that frost is no longer a concern, making planting the things she loved the perfect gift.

For years it had been too big of a job for my mother to put in a garden but eating the fresh produce was never too hard for her.  Even at 100 she could tell the difference between a garden tomato and a store bought one.  She loved freshly steamed zucchini with butter and salt and pepper.  She would eat green peppers straight from the plant like apples. She always had a sink full of cucumbers in ice water waiting to be slivered into a bowl for her famous sour cream cucumber salad.  She saved coffee cans all winter to place over the celery so it would grown long, tender, pale green stalks for her soups.  Early in the morning she could be found picking the ripe strawberries for shortcake before the birds could get them.  So many memories come to me on this day, leafing through the scrapbook of my mind. 

The Shrine of Saint Veronica
St. Veronica is the Patron Saint of Photographers.  Her fame came from wiping the sweat, mud and tears from Christ's face with her veil as he carried the cross, leaving the clearly visible imprint of his face on the cloth. They say this holy relic still exists today in Rome.  Late one night I remembered this story as I scanned and cropped the 54 photographs to be used in the 5 minute memorial slideshow of my mother's 101 years on the planet.  I recalled each event as I decided which picture to choose. A family reunion of fifteen, where now I count 5 people, some young and some old, gone.  There is the photo taken on a snowy day, in front of the log cabin, of my mom playing with her dogs.  There is a photograph, with new outfits for all, leaning against the green Plymouth, holding a new Easter purse.  My mother watching from a chair as my brother and sister-in-law plant her garden, the year I was too busy.  So many wonderful memories and some regrets, all captured in photos to be used at a funeral to describe your life in 5 minutes.  We really don't know at the time the photo is taken that it will be chosen, do we?  So now I say, look your best because this might be the one.

In the days prior to my mother's death, it was apparent she was ready to go as she gradually quit eating and drinking, her breathing labored and the blue splotches began to appear on her legs.  As I absorbed every minute with her, intently memorizing the moment, I remembered St. Veronica's veil as I blotted her face with a towel. I thought about her long life, 54 million minutes to be accurate, and the gift she gave me as my mother, seeing me into this world.  It only seemed fitting to see her out of this world, the best Mother's Day gift I could give her, although, at the time I didn't know it.

St. Veronica holding her Veil from Chris Hart Studio
The St. Veronica story is an archetype, the act of the saint is the vehicle for finding meaning in our lives.  It is to say that the simplest act of kindness is an act bigger than we can begin to understand.  A mother wipes a child's face after a meal. A husband offers a handkerchief to dry his wife's tears. A friend helps with a dustrag while you bake a birthday cake. A brother holds his sister's towel at a 10K run. A father hands you a cloth after you catch your first fish.  A daughter and mother share a dishtowel at Thanksgiving.  You wipe your mother's face in her last days.   

The simplest acts hold such great meaning.  So many photographs didn't make it into her slideshow of life but so many memories cannot be erased.  Happy Mother's Day.