Here is how my daughters and I celebrated the feast of St. Therese, (October 1) when they were growing up, and we still do!
After dinner on the evening of St. Therese day, we read the book God’s Little Flower, the story of St. Therese. Even after the girls were “too old” for this book, we still read it. I still have it, and whoever is home, we read it after dinner. It’s a very good book, and is a good introduction to the life and spiritual discoveries of St. Therese for adults as well. In fact, we have used it for that purpose to good effect in the past.
After that, having bought earlier in the day, as many roses as we could possibly afford, my girls and I, and whoever else wants to participate (friends, boyfriends, whoever) go out and randomly hand out roses to people.
We feel that no explanation is necessary with people when you give them a rose.
We don’t preach or give anybody anything to read. The roses are just free, like the love of God!
If people ask, and sometimes they do, why we are handing out roses, we tell them about St.Therese and that we honor her promise to “let fall a shower of roses from Heaven,” and to “spend [her] Heaven doing good on earth.” But otherwise we just hand them to people, or ask them, “Would you like a rose?”
You should try this! People who get roses always will feel great and you, the giver, will too. It is truly amazing how uplifting and fun a project “random roses from St. Therese,” can be.
I promise if you do this, especially if you do it again and again over many years, you will have some great stories you will tell again and again. We sure do!
Often, I will make a St. Therese Rose Petal Pound Cake. Here’s the recipe.
You will need:
1 lb sweet butter, softened
3 cups sugar
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons rose water (yes, it’s edible and at your grocery store)
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 cups flour
a little powdered sugar for dusting
Baker’s sweet chocolate (about half a 4 oz. box)
organic rose petals (Please don’t use store bought roses for this as they might be sprayed with insecticides… another choice would be to use them but take them off before you eat!)
Preheat oven to 350.
Cream together butter and sugar
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
Sift together dry ingredients.
Mix together milk and rose water
Add dry and wet to butter mixture alternately.
Mix gently by hand after each.
Pour into buttered and floured tube or bundt pan (or two loaf pans). Bake 1 hour, or till toothpick or fork into center comes out dry.
After the cake cools ten minutes, turn out onto a plate.
Drizzle with melted chocolate
Dust with powdered sugar
Sprinkle with rose petals
We usually had a brief family prayer service in honor of St. Therese, based on Evening Prayer for her feast day, but adjusted for the age of the audience. 🙂 For the Littles this might be a few short prayers and a song. Older kids can pray the Liturgy of the Hours with parents… especially with cake at the end.
We enjoy showering one another with rose petals, and also throwing them to the crucifix.
With constant developments in the news about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, and constantly breaking political news, these are extremely stressful times. How do we keep some equilibrium so we can be any use to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in these dark, difficult and divisive days? Every day it seems like there are more bomb shells. How do we sustain them?
I messaged a friend the other day, “How ARE we going to keep calm these crazy days?” She wrote back:
“I’m going to be drinking! You don’t drink, so you shall have to pray, I suppose. :P”
I do plan to pray a lot, in whatever way I can, but most of all, I plan to pray in ways that simply keep me connected to God.
As a Carmelite, I have a strong belief that cultivating a constant, loving awareness of the presence of God within is a service to the world, and that it has a gracious effect on everything, and everybody.
I believe that when I am recollected, and in conscious contact with God, I have opened the fountain of living water in my soul. By doing so, I become a channel of grace for the world.
Unsealing the living fountain of the Holy Spirit in my own soul mysteriously helps others do the same, and somehow they are helping me as well. To me, this is part of the Communion of Saints.
“Let us draw from the springs of salvation
for our selves, and for the entire parched world.”
~ St. Edith Stein
Also, staying connected to God helps me to keep closer to His perspective when things get a little crazy.
It also reminds me that whether there is the earthly appearance of what I think is justice or not, God is going to win in the end, win in His kind of way, and that His win lasts forever. My sister in Carmel, Pat Thompson says that God’s will is always love. Whatever happens, I can trust that will of love is still at work.
So, in these days of fear, anger and chaos, grief, division and anxiety, I hope to remain connected and recollected.
I know I will have to be focussed about this commitment to myself, to God, and to the world. Sometimes I might become overwhelmed with what’s going on. However, I hope to make a consistent effort to draw myself back to the center every time; that center of my soul, and the center of the whole of existence, where God is. Here are some tips about staying on track for inner peace during your day.
Make a plan for your day that cultivates peace.
Plan, whether you are at work, or at home today, and the days ahead, to cultivate serenity. It’s not going to help anything or anybody for you to freak out, right?
It may be a good idea to limit your engagement with what’s going on during the day, and to limit your media consumption, to the minimum.
Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Even popping in for a few seconds helps. If you can’t get there, here is adoration live.
Plan some stopping points at certain times to settle down and re-center, and make a simple plan for what you will do. Sometimes you just need a few minutes with some calm music, a view of nature, something nice to drink.
Go to mass if your schedule permits.
Plan to pray The Liturgy of the Hours; however many of the set hours you can pray. (Morning, Mid Morning, Midday, Mid- afternoon, Evening and Night Prayer.) Universalis is a good site to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for free. You may also like The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on-line, a Marian version, so to speak, of the Liturgy of the Hours. Also free. Check in with the Liturgy of the Hours any time, and pray with others all over the world.
Plan to do acts of kindness and/or sneaky good deeds. You will feel great. Leave someone a flower. Pay it forward at a drive through. Give something to a homeless person or engage him or her in conversation. Do a chore for someone else in your household or at work, to lighten their load. Here is a list of acts of kindness if you can’t think of anything.
Make time in your day to interact with your pet. Even a quiet moment spent petting or brushing your dog or cat can raise your spirits and calm your heart.
Look at art that uplifts you. Plan ahead to do this, or check out I Require Art on Face Book. I love looking at that page. It is also on Twitter.
Have coffee with a friend and catch up. This does wonders.
Just for a Day
Pick one of these to do now and then. You can do something for a 24 hours period that would be overwhelming to do for a lifetime. But it is great training!
Hug people today, whenever possible. Seriously. This helps them and you.
Just for today, no fighting with anyone. Fight tomorrow. Not today. You can do it just for your waking hours in this next 24. Have a day like that now and then.
Have peaceful things to read that are helpful to you, comforting, or don’t get you emotionally stirred up. Don’t read anything else, just for today.
Plan to be extra caring with the people around you today. Remind yourself often that this is your intention today: to be kind. All day.
If you have a baby or a little kid in your family, read with him, cuddle with her. Spending time talking with a little kid can be healing. Plan on it. Make it part of your day today.
Eat comforting foods. It’s one day. Don’t worry about it. Plan comfort food meals for your family. Try to limit dinner talk to peaceful topics. Just for today.
Make peace your highest priority just for one day.
“Let nothing steal your treasure.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila
If you become overwhelmed, here are some quick ways to calm down:
Push your palms together for a moment.
Close your eyes.
Shake out your limbs.
Breath in through your nose slowly (count five) and then out through your mouth (count five.) Keep going with this for a while if it helps you.
Stop what you are doing- especially stop interacting with whatever or whoever is upsetting you. Turn off the T.V. Get away from that person. Get off social media. Whatever it is, stop it.
Tune in to the moment: Feel the floor (of whatever you are standing on,) hear the sounds far away, the sounds near you, the feel of whatever you are touching. Be conscious of your breathing. Look out of the window, at the sun, at the sky, at the trees or whatever is around you. Notice what’s going on in this present moment.
Go for a brisk walk. Pray the rosary or inwardly repeat the Holy Name of Jesus, or the sweet name of Mary as you walk. Let your inner, prayerful repetition fall into rhythm with your steps and your breathing. Pray with your whole body, mind and eventually, heart.
If you can’t pray the rosary, just hold it. Think of it as holding Our Lady’s hand.
Slow down your responses to anything agitating that people say. Think before you respond back. A good thing to remember before you speak is, “Is [what I am about to say] true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
Intentionally tense different muscle groups, and then release them. It’s very calming.
Make a list of five things you are grateful for, of five people you love, and even what you love about them.
Do a simple task you do all the time, but do it mindfully. Sweep the floor patiently. Wipe the table. Brush your hair. Water plants.
Wash your face, or sprinkle cold water on your wrists and dab it behind your ears.
Call a sympathetic, or light hearted friend. Say you don’t want to talk about current events. You want to talk about turtles or something.
Watch something funny (as long as it is not snarky, sarcastic or mean spirited.)
Litanies are awesome. My mom swore by these. She kept a notebook of them. “When you’re crazy, walk the floor if you need to, and pray a litany. Litanies are great when you’re crazy.”
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.
These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things. We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.
What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?
What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?
What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?
What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?
She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.
She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere. She knew that in God, she could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.
When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.
By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.
Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.
What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?
What would that do?
When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.
In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.
In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.
Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein
Maybe we can pray something like this:
God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.
Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.
We are holding hands as we walk together along a rocky path on a hot July evening. We are talking about this and that. She asks me questions, listens thoughtfully as I talk about my life. She has a lot going on too, these days, and she unburdens her heart to me about her work, about her children. I squeeze her hand and we pray together as tears gather in her eyes. I know she works hard for her children, and prays constantly for their needs, for their good, for their souls. I am glad she will talk to me about things that concern her, that she finds my company a comfort at times. We lapse into comfortable silence.
She gathers up the brown skirt of her habit a little as we reach an incline, and I smile that she is barefoot like me. Of course she is.
People say we resemble one another, especially around the eyes. All of Carmel shares the family resemblance to Mary, our sister, as we share everything else with her.
Some might say that ours is a curious Marian devotion, this Carmelite love of Mary not only as mother and queen, but as sister.
Carmelite Marian devotion is primarily about the imitation of Mary. We see ourselves as “the other Mary,” and we view our Carmelite life of prayer and simplicity of heart as a reflection of the interior life she lived and still lives.
More than reflecting on Mary, we tend to simply see through her eyes, to love Jesus with her heart, to share in her hidden work in the world; in the silent drawing of her Immaculate Heart of all peoples toward her Son.
Siblings share confidences, and understand each other in a special way. They tell each other everything. In intimacy and cooperation with Mary, we receive a double portion of Christ’s spirit, because she magnifies the Lord, and together with her, we treasure His words and His life continually in our hearts, in union with her.
A sister can share our lives, walk beside us, trust in us, and we in her.
Mary doesn’t have to knock; she practically lives at our house. When she comes over, she might even fold some of our laundry with us.
We are always welcome at Mary’s house, too. We are allowed to pick the roses in her garden. She doesn’t mind.
Living with her as a sister keeps us in touch with the precious, pure humanity of Mary. It keeps her close by our side, walking with us in a familiar, loving way.
We are less likely to only look up to her, but more likely to unconsciously reflect her- maybe around the eyes, yes, certainly in our ways, surely in the joyful depth of our inner lives in Christ.
As we walk, I notice more and more that there are many others around us. I recognize that it is the craggy path of the ascent of Mt. Carmel we travel with our many brothers and sisters, following Jesus with Mary, our sister, in our midst. She is smiling, enjoying the company, glad we are following her Son all together.
On the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16,) the family of Carmel invites you to love Mary like a sister.
If you’ll be her brother
She’ll kiss you like a sister
She’ll even be your mother for now…
I will be her brother
Kiss her like a sister
Come and be my mother forever.
~ Sixpence None the Richer from their song, “Sister Mother”
When I answer the door, a wild- looking old hippie guy standing on my porch asks me for some water and a sandwich. I don’t actually have much food in the house right now, as it’s a few days until Pay Day. I’m trying to think what to give him, remembering I am down to the last scrapes of peanut butter, when, seeming to read my mind, he says that I won’t run out of either bread or peanut butter until the next time I get paid. “Just make me a sandwich,” he says in response to my incredulous stare.
In my kitchen, I open a cabinet and find my jar of peanut butter unexpectedly full. I also find a loaf of bread. So I make him a sandwich.
“Should I know you?” I finally ask. “Yes. I’m the prophet Elijah.”
I ask him, “Aren’t you supposed to appear in the end times?” * He looks at me sharply with an expression of terrible ferocity, sadness, tenderness, radiance, and when our eyes meet, I feel exposed to the vastness of space, and I know even that vastness to be flying by, nothing at all. I know myself to be dust, less than dust. Both the prophet and I are dust in the wind together.
I find myself on a mountainside next to him. I don’t look at his face, but I watch his feet in their dusty sandals as I follow him up. The path is rough, steep, and though well worn, it is still difficult. We climb on and on in silence. This must be Mt. Carmel. Suddenly I take a thoughtless step, sliding and falling backwards down the narrow path, and then over an edge I didn’t notice before.
He catches my wrist, and as soon as his hand closes tightly to catch me and stop my fall, I see what fills the pit I almost fell into- the charred remains of little children, so many, too many to count. The full horror of this scene chokes me. As I hang over this terrible place in Elijah’s grip, I hear the Scripture, “it is not against flesh and blood that we are at war, but with the powers and principalities of darkness,” and the words of Jesus, “Satan is a murderer and he was a murderer from the beginning. “
Suddenly I am back on the mountain path with Elijah, trying to recover my calm. I look at him, his face covered with angry tears, and I remember the priests of Baal he was up against, and I feel I understand the extreme zealous intensity of Elijah. It wasn’t only the worship of an idol, offensive as that was, it was all that this led to, and ultimately, it was the Evil One beneath it all, and who is still our real enemy.
The little children sacrificed to Baal* don’t suffer anymore. It is God who feels it forever, God who is horrifically wronged, the order of the world distorted by every scream, because He is Love and Truth itself, and we are made in His image, to love and to be loved. There is only one way evil can have any effect on God; through the harm or the betrayal of those He loves.
Unfaithfulness to Him inevitably leads the human heart to ruin and darkness and worse. “All who worship them will become like them.”
That pit. I shudder. That place was strangely familiar. I know it signifies much. I will be sorting out its’ implications for a long time.
Elijah seems tired as we continue our climb. “Thank you,” I breathe, feeling that he can hear me, and that he knows I am thanking him, too, for his life of powerful witness to God, of jealous love for Him.
“Zelo zelatus sum,” I think to myself, as we duck into Elijah’s cave. “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts;” Elijah’s words, and the motto of all Carmelites.* This is why we live, this is why we pray: “As the Lord lives, in whose presence I stand,” that He come through us into this world, that we might arise and burn like a torch in the spirit and power of Elijah against the spiritual forces of darkness, the idols and injustices of our time, with “a double portion of [his] spirit.”
We sit watching the ravens bringing us food from afar. I want to explore the cave, but the prophet’s eyes are closed, and I know we are supposed to pray now, as the sun sets. Just before I close my eyes, I see in the distance, over the sea, a small rain cloud coming up over the water. I understand what this means. “He shall descend like rain on the meadows.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.
I am aware of the profound, incomprehensible tenderness of God in the “still small voice” withinElijah and myself. We cover our faces, and we say His name, the Name of God.
“The fire from the Lord consumed the sacrifice… and the people fell on their faces saying, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”Notes:
Elijah’s life is in 1Kings chapters 17- 21, and 2Kings 1- 2:18
My daughter, Maire, got in trouble at her Catholic middle school for wearing green nail polish, which was against the rules. (Only clear or light pink nail polish allowed, if I remember right.) When asked about her indiscretion, she said, “It’s for Ordinary Time!”
I laughed hearing about that. At least she remembered what season we were in as Church, and it meant something to her.
We have just begun Ordinary Time, that big section of green, the liturgical color of the current Church season, that fills most of the wheel illustrating the Liturgical Year.
We have special things we do at other seasons in the Church year. What about Ordinary Time?
Ordinary Time has it’s own feel. I associate its’ post Pentecost beginning with that first breath of cool air from the church door as I step into the intimate hush of daily Mass on a hot Summer day. This season is a contrast of calm and peace after the penance of Lent and the holy fire of Easter and Pentecost. It’s a return to the simple holiness of daily life.
One of our family albums is titled, “Ordinary Time.” It is a scrapbook of our family life during a few months of Summer and Fall. Into it I recorded our daily “rule of life;” (or sometimes not-so-rule,) song lyrics to music we were listening to at the time, the every day prayers we prayed, the silly things we did on the spur of the moment like a spontaneous family dance in the middle of dinner, as well as our little celebrations of the feasts of Ordinary Time, such as the Nativity of Mary (September 8.)
We always made Mother Mary a birthday cake. “Chocolate. What other kind of cake would she eat, right?” the caption says in green ink.
We remembered this part of the Church year by keeping green candles on our family alter. We prayed a “kid version” (when the kids were younger,) of the Liturgy of the Hours I put together for family prayer, which always reflected the current season.
At Mass, the vestments and alter cloths will be green or have green trim. My mom, always the gardener, used to say this was because “green is the color of life.” In Ordinary Time, the focus shifts from the culminating moments in the life of Christ and His Church; the birth of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and then Pentecost, to the space in between where most of life is lived.
“Ordinary” comes from the word, “Order.” So we enter into the daily order of the Church at this time of year, and the emphasis of the Gospel readings is on the ministry of Jesus; His preaching and healing, His daily encounters with people, His conversations, his journeys.
Ordinary time can be a time we pay special attention to our own encounters, conversations, and the events of our own lives, and how God speaks to us in these. How does the life of Jesus unfold in your own?
What do you do every day? I know I spend a lot of time coping, and sometimes I need to cultivate more conscious awareness of life so it doesn’t just happen to me and I miss it.
I am not by nature a very rule or schedule oriented person. But I do know paying attention to my loosely interpreted cadenza of a life, makes it more of a little holy rule instead of a stream of consciousness in which I might forget to practice the presence of God. * When I can lightly observe the rhythm of the day with holy intention, I feel peaceful and connected.
Ordinary Time is a great time to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to read the daily mass readings, (or maybe just the Gospel each day, as my youngest adult daughter and I do.) It’s a good time to get in the habit of sanctifying time by stopping, or at least pausing, in our day, to pray, even for a moment. It’s a good time to remember to look around and notice how beautiful God is, and how He is everywhere represented and speaking to us.
Now is a great time to carry Jesus into the work we do, and to consciously do all we do as it truly is; through Him, with Him and in Him. We can try doing every task with gentleness and love. Whether we sit, or lie down, or are talking to our children, whether we are in our house, driving our car, doing the shopping or at work, when we are sitting with friends, or going for a walk, we can try always to be remembering the nearness of God, even in our breathing.
“God is alive. I am standing in His presence.” ~Antiphon from The Carmelite Proper for the feast of Elijah the Prophet (July 20)
We can each day seek to understand how it is that His yoke is easy, His burden light, His Heart meek and humble. We can slowly begin to incorporate that lightness, that easiness, that meekness and humility of heart into our lives as we become more aware of the sweet companionship of His spirit every day.
This is how we enjoy life as people who consciously live in God; by bringing the remembrance of Him into the sacred Ordinariness of our time.
“See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally.
~ Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Nowich
* The Practice of the Presence of God is a term coined by the Carmelite mystic, Brother Lawrence, and is the title of a collection of his writings.
“Come, Holy Spirit, Fire of Love, Come Father of the poor, heal my wounds by your love.
Lord, You have chosen me already in my childhood and I know that I am the work of Your Love.
– Come, Holy Spirit… I’m not anything more than pure weakness, You know well my God, that my hands are empty
– Come, Holy Spirit…
You know well, my only friend, that the One that captivated my heart, the One I love is You, my Jesus
– Come, Holy Spirit…
And only You can give joy to my soul, which desires to love You for Eternity
– Come, Holy Spirit…
Mary, Queen of Heaven, my dear Shepherdess, you knew how to protect me with your motherly hand
– Come, Holy Spirit…
When I was playing carefree over the chasm, You showed me the mount of Carmel
– Come, Holy Spirit…”
~ St. Therese
Holy Spirit, the Comforter, come and enter into the deep recesses of our hearts. Heal us as we come to know You in the quiet of our souls. Teach us to seek you in “the cave of the heart”. Renew us in hope. Strengthen us in faith. Bring each of us Your healing grace in the depths of our hearts that we may know the deepest peace.
In the midst of darkness and anguish, that is nothing to you to transform, in the midst of very difficult situations, bring an explosion of Your grace that makes all that is ugly and fearful beautiful and free.
We know and believe you are already doing this and we sense Your genius in the unfolding of our lives. You are Love itself.
Come, Holy Spirit, and take us to new heights of Love. For perfect Love casts out all fear. May we live continually in a loving awareness of Your presence within us and around us and in everyone and all our experiences of each day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
This is a story of a love that grew between a very Catholic thirty-something widowed mom and a crew of very rough men who were not only physically dirty but rough in all the ways blue collar guys can be. They drank, they cussed, they smoked (and not only cigarettes), they did other things there is no need to mention or think of, some of them engaging in varying degrees of what one might call debauchery. I didn’t care though. And I was right not to.
They all knew me because my brother, Mark, had worked with them for many years though he was now in a different part of the production department. The crew had worries about my coming. First of all, I was female and they were and had been an all-male crew for twenty-five years in a job that isolated them from the rest of the paper, the rest of the world, most of the time. The press room is it’s own little world with its own culture and social structure, its own legends, history and lingo. How would a new, small, alien being fit into all that? They were also worried because my job would be very tough physically and I am a very small person. How would I manage — and were they going to have to do my work for me? Could I handle the rough environment, their dirty mouths, their nasty talk, their supposedly bad manners? They knew I was very religious…really, really religious. What were they going to do? How was this going to work? Would I try to convert them or get them to pray with me?
I was worried I wouldn’t be any good at this job, which was basically being their helper, “the Catcher” and catch-all, doing whatever was needed in that loud, filthy, fast-moving place, to help them every day. (Don’t worry I held my own. I think this helped a lot in getting along with them).
To start with, I made a goodwill gesture by sending muffins for them with my brother a few days before I was to start. I got an e-mail from my future foreman that they were the best muffins they ever had and they ate every one of them. Still, my first day in the Eagle press room, the crew was nervous and could hardly talk. I could tell they were uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what to do about it. But the first thing I did was laugh at their jokes. They were very funny guys. I got them to tell me their wild stories from back in the day when they were all young and played crazy games and pranks on each other and were generally very bad. I laughed at the stories too, which surprised them. I said I was going to write a book of “Eagle Legends.” They said not until they were all dead.
They still seemed to be nervous by the afternoon of that first day so I waited until the press was rolling, until we all had our head sets on, so they wouldn’t have to look at me, before I brought anything up. This way they could just go on being busy while we talked so it would be less tense. I pushed the button under my right ear that would let them all hear me. “OK,” I said, “What’s the matter with you guys?” Silence. “Do I make you nervous?” They looked around at each other.
Finally Mike said, “We’re trying not to make you mad, or make you cry. We’ve been trying not to cuss or say anything bad all day.”
I thought about it.
“Well, I know I am supposed to but I really don’t care if y’all cuss. So that’s not going to bother me. Just don’t talk dirty to me and we’ll all be fine.” They thought they could comply with that. And they did.
Not only that but they were such gentlemen in the true sense. I already liked them. In fact, they turned out to be the best guys in the world. They still are.
I was in the lowest place, certainly, but the lowest place is not so bad when the people above you make little platforms for you to stand on so you can reach things, when they make a big deal about everything you do right, when they clap when you come out for the first time dressed in your blue pressroom uniform, when they are rapturous about everything you cook for them, and laugh at all the things you waste time on (like the day I decorated all their coffee cups and another time I figured out each of their Captain Underpants’ name, and that one prank I pulled that was pretty funny if I may say so myself).
I obeyed them with love and devotion and all my work was to help them and keep them safe. When I mopped behind the press I did it to keep them from slipping. When I helped them at my end of the press (catching and stacking the bundles of paper as they came out) and agreed to go for hours and hours on a long run without a rest when they had a heavy day, it was to ease things up for them and help them get their work done smoothly. I found out this was how they worked, too, they each worked for the sake the others.
They loved me and I loved them. We were happy.
I listened intently to their problems, put Band-Aids on their wounds when they got hurt (pressmen get hurt a lot,) and they tried to help me with my troubles, comfort me when I cried, and make sure I didn’t lose my keys.
Ways we confronted the culture clash between us were playful and respectful. When they used the Lord’s Name in vain, I smiled and said, “I LOVE that guy!” At first they stared at me but then they laughed.
When my rosary broke they thought that was very funny and tried to figure out how I broke it. (Praying too hard for them?) Red fixed the rosary for me with the tools for tiny parts in the workroom. He asked me how to say the Hail Mary. He never made it all the way through the prayer without a joke you wouldn’t like. But when his dog was bitten by a rattlesnake he said he couldn’t remember what to do with the rosary, but he had held it up and asked God to please help Chester. Chester, happily, is alive and well. I gave Red a rosary. It still hangs in his truck.
I made fun of them about how they couldn’t get anything done when the female electrician was there and they kept tripping over things. They laughed too.
As to the question about handling gossip…truly, I loved them so much, I didn’t care what they said. But I teased them that they gossiped like Jr. High girls, which made them laugh. They did try not to “talk mess” around me though, since I explained I wasn’t supposed to. “I can’t be doing that,” I said… and I tried not to.
If they messed up and talked about anything dirty, I had playful ways of dealing with that too, though it hardly ever happened. One time I said, “OK let’s talk about sex then!” They were very uncomfortable. I started talking about Theology of the Body and got my Bible from my backpack and started reading them the Song of Songs with a big smile on my face that was totally authentic, I promise. You wouldn’t believe how bashful, sheepish and embarrassed they were and how much they balked at the steamy language in the Song of Songs. They didn’t really want to talk about sex. They just wanted to be gross, I guess. I could not stop laughing about their reaction, and they wondered why I was so crazy.
We laughed at each other. We laughed at each other a lot.
Eventually if they had something they wanted to say that was “bad” they would tell me to turn off my head set. So I would roll my eyes and turn it off. After a while I did not have to turn it off so much. We liked to make each other happy that’s why.
Richard got me a kid chair to put with everyone else’s in the formans’ office so I could have my own seat at our morning meeting even though the catcher is not usually a part of that at all. I didn’t find that out until later. I just assumed the meeting was for me too and they treated me like I was supposed to be there. They accepted me. They let me in.
One of them had trouble letting me in. That was Luis. I could hardly get him to talk to me. But I found out he liked whistle candy and got him a big box of it. We played with the whistle candy and slowly started talking. We ended up great friends. Whistle candy is one of our inside jokes.
I loved hearing about their lives, and Mondays were my favorite days because I missed the guys over the weekend.
One time they were talking about a new girl that was working up front and I asked if beauty was kind of healing for them because they liked looking at her so much. They liked this a lot. “Yes,” one of them said, “I guess you could say that.” They were all smiling. They thought I was funny. And I thought they were funny too. We knew how each other was. And it was all fine.
I got mono one time and they kept calling me to see about me and ask when I was coming back. One time my brother got on the phone, “Get back here! They are right back to the way they used to be before you came! They’re awful!”
I loved that these guys had been together all their lives, watched each other’s kids grow up, had been there for each other in bad times, had played maybe a thousand or more basketball games together and remembered every one of those games and could tell you about it, as well as every repair they had done on each others’ cars and motorcycles and houses and plumbing and so on. They were the best press crew in Texas, and rightly proud of the excellent work they did. They were honorable guys in so many ways. There was so much good and beauty in each of them.
They came to like me too and accept my quirks and oddities — like the way I don’t eat meat, (or drink, or date, or smoke, or do anything fun as far as they could tell at first), the way I will cry easily, don’t take criticism well, the way I daydreamed and lost count of the bundles coming out or how many skids I stacked at times. I alarmed them by blowing bubbles on the roof when we were supposed to be putting up the Christmas lights (and people on the busy road were staring at us and the publisher was sure to hear about it.) I glazed over when people talked about boring stuff like engines, money or tools.
I got mad at Wayne from the mail room when he refused to take a cookie from me and stalked past me without a reply. I put a handful down his shirt.
Wayne and I learned to live in peace. He shakes his head when he sees me, and I call to his attention how much I love him- “See? I love you so much, I didn’t even say anything when I saw you! Not even good morning!”
The guys put my impulsive loss of temper at Wayne into verse. Never mind about that.
When I made fun of them they thought it was great. One time they went too far teasing me and I went in the bathroom and cried and wouldn’t come out. They were totally freaked out until I did come out. When I finally did, they were so sorry and I just wanted them to forget about it and not feel so bad.
Usually when I showed evidence of my shortcomings, they would start laughing and say, “We gonna tell them Carmelites you said that!” Or Mel would tell me I would have to go to Confession that Saturday if I didn’t stop that. “I’m surprised at you!” he would say. When I got on their nerves, Jason would start asking if it was 2:45 yet. “Isn’t it time you went to pick your kids up from school?”
I tried not to annoy or offend them. I want to be good for them and they want to be good for me. At the same time we accept one another. I think this is a good balance.
On my birthday one year they wrote me a song, “Our Angel,” and performed it at our morning meeting. Bob played guitar and they all sang it to me. I cried, I was so touched. I could barely stay in the room with all that love, appreciation and acceptance. They understood. They had to tell me it was OK . “Just listen.”
One time Red had said they wanted to heal my broken heart. I hope they know they did. They brought me out of myself and loved me and helped me be part of life again.
I remember all their middle names. I remember their birthdays. I make them cakes every year for their birthdays still and one of them (usually Mike or Mel) will call me on mine on behalf of them all. I ended up marrying the only one of them who was a complete atheist. (That was Bob, and he ended up Catholic).
They have fixed my cars, helped me around the house, cared about my kids and at times have fathered them when they needed it, and are still there for me though I have not worked there officially for a few years now.
When I bring a cake there for one of their birthdays they stick to the tradition I started of singing Happy Birthday to the birthday person and telling stories about him. If I forget, they remind me.
Now and then they remind me that my rosary that I prayerfully hung on one of the press motors when the press was down one terrible night, is still there, (at this writing,) melted into the metal that got so hot during the crisis. I think that is symbolic. We are melded into each other’s hearts.
Looking at them one time, and thinking about who each of them was, I prayed to Jesus about them, that He would bless them and not worry too much about some things, because the good things were so good. I reflected that He knew them better than I did and loved them better too. He brought us together and He knew what He was doing. I realized that I was finding Him in them.
Maybe that’s what “bringing Christ to the workplace,” or any place, really is. Maybe when you look for Jesus in others, you transmit His love and grace in a mysterious way the Spirit knows. If you find Him, you give Him, and receive Him, too.
Jesus said, “Whoever hears you hears me.”I hope it also means, “Whoever loves you loves me,” because I love those guys. And they love me. “Where my disciple is there will I be also.” We all turned out to be disciples even though maybe some of us didn’t know we were. “Wherever there is love, there is God,” said St. Thomas Aquinas.
So what is the advice in this story? “Look for God in your co-workers so they can see Him in you,” or “Find Jesus everywhere,” or maybe, “ Stop being so uncool.” After a while Jesus shines out on both sides. It’s easy then.
If you’re reading this, guys, I love you! Get back to work too!
* Dear Reader, please take a moment and pray for my guys. ❤
* Originally this article was published in the Flos Carmeli, the Provincial Newsletter of the Secular Discalced Carmelites of the Oklahoma Province. I was asked to write about “Bringing Christ to the work place,” as a Carmelite, and to offer advice about dealing with the everyday worldliness, gossip and rivalries lay people encounter at work. I decided to tell you a love story instead, and maybe the story would cover some of those points. It was later re-published for ATX Catholic and also The Eagle in my monthly column in a more edited form. I thought it would be fun to bring it out in honor of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. 🙂
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