This is a selection from my journal back in early 2012. Stream of consciousness, and somewhat long (hence split in 2 parts):
I love the Thoreau quote that for whatever reason I think of more than once a week. It captures something grittily true about my experience of people and of life. The older I get, the more I see its penetrating truth.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
Once I get beyond the first moments of superficiality in a conversation with someone, and set sail into their world with open ended questions, succeeded by a pause long enough afterward to actually listen, so often the quiet desperation begins to speak. Right on this point, a priest colleague here in Des Moines made some phenomenal points just last week over lunch.
Hearing Confessions keeps me very aware that life is hard for people. And trying to be a good Catholic makes it harder, because you cut against so much of the cultural grain. Once I started to hear Confessions after I was Ordained, my idea of what I should preach about totally changed. I went from lofty to realistic. I really try to think out of the world of God’s people. I try to listen to God’s Word, preparing my homily, by listening to people close-up throughout the week. That’s Jesus-preaching, right? Speaks directly to the people’s real world experiences. It’s a marvelous thought to realize God only finished revealing Himself totally after He entered our world and lived our human life with us. Only then He was able to speak not just as “the God of eternal bliss,” but as the man of sorrows.
When I’m at Mass, I sometimes look around during the Offertory and imagine what each person’s story might be — the stories of hopes, dreams, joys, successes as well as the stories of pain, loss, struggle, heartbreak, fear, sadness, estrangement, addiction, disappointment. I imagine these people somehow wonder, as they sit in the pews: What does God have to do with life outside this church? I know some of their stories, but most I don’t.
The family in front of me, I know their struggle to make ends meet. Two small children, two jobs. The husband works 60 hours in a 6-day week as an EMT and goes to school at night trying to get certified as a paramedic. Comes home around 11:00 p.m. and gets up at 4:00 a.m. to do it all again. The wife is a nurse.
To my right in the pew is a man I know who suffers from alcohol addiction. He hates it, but his friends are drinkers and he finds himself trapped in a cycle. He lives alone and is terribly lonely. A history of broken relationships, a family torn by division. He cares for his elderly mom who lives a block away, and she worries about him. He and I spent some time together a little while ago talking at his dining room table and he showed me a crumpled prayer card he prays every day. A St. Jude novena.
Across the aisle from me is a woman whose husband won’t go to church, and he makes it difficult at home for her trying to raise their children in the faith. She has all the kids in the pew, and she always kneels in front of Our Lady’s statue after every Mass. I wonder what she says?
About 5 pews behind me is a married woman who’s been tempted to infidelity. She’s tortured by guilt and confusion.
Way in the back near the south entrance to the church is a couple in their 60’s with their severely disabled son in his 20’s. He makes loud noises throughout Mass, and they seem embarrassed.
One of the lectors suffers from bouts of severe depression, and the usher at the west entrance — always smiling — has a wife at home with advanced dementia. He invited my wife and me to visit her. How beautiful to see how he spoke to her with such love. She seemed to not know who he was, but she was sweet.
Then coming in during the Gospel was a young mother of many — always late, for obvious reasons. Maybe too many children to handle, she says on darker days. She’s a remarkable woman who bears a heavy load in life. Her husband is a bit, let’s say, in his own world and talks to people after Mass while she corrals her scattered brood. She says complains to God at times about why He gave her so many children. I wonder if I should tell her having babies isn’t just God’s doing? How arrogant of me.
The cantor sang the psalm verse: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”
The woman in front of me was reading the bulletin during the psalm. She seemed interested in the upcoming parish bazaar flyer insert.