LIsten to Father Manny’s sermon from Sunday, Feb 14, the first Sunday of Lent (and also Valentine’s Day).
A Day in the Life…
Wednesday morning, 6:05am, it is still quite dark out. A thick fog had settled upon the northwest suburbs muting the autumn colors and muffling the sounds of nature. All was still; the trees were motionless. Even the birds were nowhere to be seen. Traffic was heavy headed eastbound. Not much to do but endure the bumper to bumper situation, remain patient and, well, pray. I do quite a bit of praying while I drive. It’s not a testament to my driving skills, but rather a practice in which I’ve engaged for as long as I’ve been driving. Praying brings a palpable peace upon me that is far too pleasurable to ignore or do without. So, I pray. More heavy traffic. More prayer.
St. Alexius Hospital is just off to the left. I park at the farthest spot from the front door. I like to walk and quite frankly, my car is safer parked farthest away. I ask the front desk receptionist how to get to the ICU. She points to the elevator and says get off on the 3rd floor and turn left. I find and opt for the stairs and walk the 3 flights, turn left and locate room 364. I see Erlene in the hallway, talking to the doctor. She and I embrace and talk about how Vernon is doing and how she’s coping. After donning a blue cover-all and gloves, I go in to see Vernon. He’s not too responsive: he has tubes here, there, seemingly everywhere. I hold his hand and gently stroke his head with my other hand. He tries to talk, but his breathing tube prevents any audibility. No problem, I share with him that the community is praying for him and for Erlene, that we all miss him and wish him to return to us happy and healthy. Despite the tubes, his smile can not be denied nor missed. It is contagious. Erlene smiles, I smile and I have to think that even God is smiling with us at that very moment. And why not? We are His children and God loves us with such intensity.
I say my goodbyes to Vernon and Erlene and begin the drive to Elk Grove.
(Little did I know that this would be my last visit with Vernon. I will treasure the time spent with him and always remember his most infectious smile. Rest in Eternal Peace, my dear friend.)
Barrington Road is clearing up by now. After all, it’s after 10am and the morning rush has pretty much ended. I turn left on Schaumburg Road, past a series of strip malls, schools and churches. A quick right on Meachem to Biesterfield Road, over and across Rt. 53, past Alexian Brothers Medical Center, the Village City Hall and Police Station, veer left to Jewel and pull up behind the store. I ring the buzzer once, twice and three times. Finally, an employee opens up and announces he has “some stuff” for us this week. 8 full boxes of canned goods and staples I carefully load into my car. The cans and bottles rattle up against one another and I fear something will break and spill onto my fresh and neat car seats. Fear not. All went well and nothing broke, spilled or was the cause of all my earlier prayers going out the window with any utterance of disappointment or anger. Went in through the back door of the church, unlocked the sacristy and greeted Jim who was unpacking all the bread and pastry he had picked up earlier that morning at Panera’s. I took the large cart, down the ramp out the back door and carefully sidled up next to my car. Unloaded all the cases and heaved the cart into the church, up the ramp and into the Pantry Room. We unloaded the boxes and began to stock the shelves with the bounty made gift to us. The bare shelves had life again and the pantry guests would have some selections from which to choose. How wonderful.
Back into the church, I prepare for the weekend Services by getting the chalices ready, cutting the altar bread into halves, one set into the freezer again and the other set into the fridge for use this weekend. Printed the Stewardship inserts that will go into the Worship Programs once they are ready. Music books are straightened out, the chairs in the church are lined up in order and the funereal candles we used for All Saints Day were lugged back into the storage room. Checked the Book of the Gospels to be sure the proper passage is readied. The phone rang three times, solicitors, a neighboring church inquiring where we purchase our altar wine and some one asking about our food pantry requirements. Haven’t had any breakfast but I’m not hungry. I could, however, use a cup of coffee. I brew a fresh pot, pour myself a cup and take it outside with me as I walk around the church. All looks so nice, so clean and well kept. I smile and again I consider the chances that God is smiling along with me. And why not?
It’s just after 3pm and already several pantry guests have gathered. In fact, they’ve been at the church since 1pm. They are invited in where coffee and pastry await. They have been huddled at the table in the Gathering Space, talking, laughing, sharing recipes and stories. It is a community; a gathering of friends who meet up every 1st and 3rd Wednesday, compliments of the Holy Innocents Food Pantry at St. Nicholas Church. I look at their faces, those happy and grateful faces and my heart is full with joy and peace. I smile. I know that God is smiling with me right then. And why not?
Bob Kalicki and Gary Lackey have arrived by now. We share some stories and chit-chat about this and that. I fill Bob in on what’s going on, about the food we received from Jewel and that all the bread and pastry Panera’s gave us is all ready, packaged and available to whomever desires it. I say my goodbyes to the Pantry Team and to the guests, I grab a couple bottled waters from the fridge, make sure the sacristy is locked up and all is as it should be. I get into my car which is rather hot and stuffy. Here it is, November 4th and it feels like it’s mid-September. I love it. How much longer are we to be blessed with these rather late, Indian Summer style days? ‘Embrace and savor them while we can,’ I say to myself. Next week, we could have snow. What bliss.
I drive the 2 miles to Eunice’s home where she awaits my arrival. As I walk up the drive, a rather friendly squirrel carefully and cautiously crawls over to me. I keep calling him over and he responds. Darn it, no food to give. He nibbles at my shoe, looks up and scampers off. A little touch of nature right at my feet. I knock and walk in, give Eunice a hug and sit myself down in the wing back chair which is my traditional place. We talk, laugh and laugh some more. It’s what Eunice and I do when we get together. I bring her up to speed on what’s happening at St. Nicholas. No, not gossip, but actual concerned conversations. We talked about Vernon, about how Nancy Allan is doing, about how beautiful the gardens look again in large thanks to Connie Nicholson, Marilyn Brown and Bob Kalicki, too. We talked like a family would talk about each other…with love and care. And after the conversations, we pause and prepare for Holy Communion. I offer a prayer and share Jesus with Eunice. We are silent for a moment. Then, we pray the words our Lord and Savior taught us…”Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” I bid my farewell, give Eunice another big hug and find my way to my car. Fortunately, the two bottles of water are still cool to the touch. I’ll need them as I know traffic headed north will be heavy this time of the day.
It’s 5:30 pm, the sun is preparing for its descent and the sky is a brilliant reddish, orange. It’s autumn’s beauty on display. The birds that were absent earlier this morning are everywhere. My car windows are down and I can hear them overhead. I see a line of geese headed south in their classic “V” formation. It’s wonderful. I’m at a red light watching the traffic pass by, watching the birds begin their migratory journey, squinting into that setting sun…and I smile. Yes, God is smiling, too. And why not?
It is a pure joy and honor to be gifted the opportunity to experience the culture and beauty of another country. I had been to Mexico once before and fell in love with the people, the atmosphere and the absolute wonders of the countryside. The rainbow of colors of the plants and flowers; it’s almost too much. As if God and nature just lost control and threw it all out there without any rhyme or reason but only to see just how many colors they could create. Such vibrancy; it would be understandable were someone to say it is overwhelming. I have to admit; I was beginning to believe that our cold, upper Midwestern winters had somehow muted my sense of sight, (could it be that I’m simply getting older?) These colors are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Then again, in time and due season, I shall savor our spring flowers and take in the beauty and bold, blood red of a blooming rose or the bursts of purple, orange and yellow of a climbing clematis. And I will gaze at our St. Nicholas gardens come late summer and early autumn and marvel at the beauty of the mums and the awesome display of hues and shades and I’ll swear I’ve not seen colors such as these.
Yes: all things in due time and all things have a season. As a Church, we remain in the season of Advent. We are about to enter the fourth and final week of this holy season. This weekend we light the last of our four candles. The entire wreath will glow and the feast of the Nativity will be that much closer. This glorious and joyful scene will be played out in every church that has an Advent wreath, in every house of worship that is waiting, anticipating and expecting the joyful news. Regardless where we are; whether in the warmth of Mexico or in the chill of the Midwest, we celebrate what is just, right and good and we do so with excitement and joy.
Perhaps it is because of my Michigan upbringing that Christmas, cold and snow are synonymous. They are supposed to go together, right? Not so in the tropic: for snow there is the sand that blows at will and the cold is the ice that gently slides down the frosted glasses. Still, we — the good people in Mexico, the good people in the north and all Christians the world over — await the birth of the Lord. We anticipate with excitement and glee the bells that will ring to herald the New Born King.
I read recently a quote of the Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, something that seemed rather well-timed and which I’d like to share with you now: “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” Ah yes, to recall the beauty of such as a rose in the bleak, cold midwinter truly gives our hearts and souls pause for joy and peace.
Yes, the world waits. Whether in the cold of the north or the balmy breezes of the south, we all await the birth of Jesus. To celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ entry into our world just as we have been celebrating for over 2000 years. All things in due time and in their season.