This Sunday Sarah and I sat in the choir loft, where Craig was holding court in the bass section. It was going to be the last time he was able to sing in the choir before we move to our new home in Phoenixville. And though he hadn’t been singing with them for more than a year, it was clearly a struggle for him to let go. To leave. To start over.
Me, not so much. Truth is, I have a bit of gypsy in my blood. A kind of restlessness creeps in as the time gets closer for the new adventure. The boxes packed, the electric bill switched, the new house leased. A rush of excitement as I think about being able to unpack all our things that have been languishing in temporary storage.
And yet, as we drive home I cannot help but feel the weight in the car. “Moving stinks,” Sarah volunteers. Craig grunts. I recount all the wonderful things in store: the new au pair who is coming from Germany. The park with swings in our backyard. The big deck for summer barbecues. The beautiful new school we get to visit early in May. And yes, the new parish that has both an adult and children’s choir. Good things, all of them.
Still, the silence. And in that moment, I realize: Those strains of mercy needed most, are those we dispense when we are least disposed to grant it. In the classic work The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis spoke of the Shining Ones who retrace their steps back down the mountain to meet the bus with those from the Gray Town. The grass cuts the feet of those phantom spirits. And yet the Shining Ones urge them farther and higher.
At Easter we remember those whose worlds are touched with gray, that the Spirit would make our joy contagious.
What do the Catholic Writers Conference Online, Auschwitz, Servant of God John Paul II, and confessionals have in common? They all make me think of one of my favorite feasts of the year, Mercy Sunday.
At CWCO 2009 this year, Danielle Bean talked about comments she gets from women who disapprove her choice to combine her vocation inside the home with her work as editor of Faith and Family. That this homeschooling mother of eight manages to find a spare minute to do everything else she does is nothing short of remarkable … and yet she freely admits that she is sometimes taken aback when other moms criticize.
“Women are way too quick to tear each other apart. I think a lot of that comes from pride and insecurity. If I am confident that what I am doing is best for my family, I need to embrace it … And then the ‘snippy’ people can’t even touch me.”
Ironically, it is Christian women — those who have experienced for themselves the boundless grace of God in their own lives — who can be hardest both on themselves and on one another. We are quick to criticize, and slow to see when a sister in Christ needs nothing so much as a word of encouragement. In no time, we become imprisoned by the combined weight of a thousand assumptions, impressions, and assertions … all of which can be released with a single timely word of grace.
And so, in honor of Mercy Sunday I’d like to take a moment to recall a time in my life when I experienced this unexpected brush with grace, in the last place some Catholics expect to find it … in a confessional. The article, “Tender Mercies,” was originally published by Canticle magazine in 2007, examines the origins of Mercy Sunday, and affirms the sacramental graces that are available to those humble enough to ask for them.