God is in the details

Mary Beth Bonacci

I think it’s safe to say that people have been a little on edge lately.

We see it in the macro, in the chaos that has been spilling out into the streets of just about every city in America. We see it in the micro in countless viral videos, shot in countless WalMarts, of countless people publicly melting down. Mostly over mask use, or the lack thereof. I saw one last week of a woman literally assaulting a young boy. I saw another one recently of a woman on a rampage, throwing merchandise and screaming as horrified shoppers looked on.

None of it is pretty.

If we’re honest, I think a lot of us would have to admit that the edginess has crept into our own lives. I know it has in mine. It has been a very stressful year. I’ve spent a good part of it alone in my house. It has, to be honest, made me cranky at times. I see it sometimes in how I interact with my mother’s caregivers. I’m frustrated that I can’t take care of her myself, or even really see her. And so, when I can’t see how they are caring for her, or I suspect it isn’t the way I would do it, I tend to get a little testy with them. And then I apologize and promise it won’t happen again. But it does.

And let’s not even get started on social media. Suffice it to say I have not suffered fools gladly. Or perhaps I’m the fool.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, a meme caught my attention. I don’t remember the exact content, but it was something to the effect that one of the criteria for the judgment at the end of our lives will be how we treated people we find annoying.

I could be in big trouble.

I tend to be a “big picture” person. I don’t get overly caught up in a lot of details. That trait has served me well in many ways — particularly in speaking and writing. However, I suspect it may not serve me so well when it comes to the Last Judgment.

When you look at the Big Picture, I feel like I’ve done pretty well. Gave a lot of talks, hopefully led at least a few people to Jesus through them. I’ve tried for the most part to be kind and good to people. Not a bad big picture.

But I suspect Jesus is more of a detail guy.

It has been occurring to me lately that He really meant all of that stuff He said about loving our enemies, serving the poor, visiting the prisoner, etc. And that it’s all going to count in the end. Not in the sense that we will meet with a scowling, nit-picking Judge holding a long list of our infractions and omissions. No, we will meet a loving, merciful Savior, who will show us our lives from His perspective. I believe that, at that time, we will see the consequences down through the ages of all of our good actions. And all of our sins. And all of our omissions. We will see the good that could have happened, had we been more charitable with this person, or reached out to help that person. We will see the difference that we could have made, but didn’t.

Most of all, we will see how, in missing those opportunities, we missed the chance to increase His love in our hearts. Because doing good begets love, which begets more doing good. All of which draws us closer to Him.

I wrote several months ago that “all things work for Good for those who love Him.” And that I believe He is using this time of fear and isolation to work in our lives, to bring us closer to Him. And, at least for me, a big part of that is to show me how I react when I’m scared and stressed. And to show me that I’m called to do better.

And so, I’m trying. I’m reviewing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and trying to incorporate them into my life. I’m also trying to examine my conscience, in a more detailed way, at the end of the day. I’m starting with gratitude and with love, and then asking, with the help of the Holy Spirit, where I failed to respond with love to the gifts and the people God placed in front of me that day.

St. John of the Cross said, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” I believe that is true. We will be judged not just in the big picture, but in the details. And not just when it’s easy to love, but when it’s difficult — when we’re dealing with the less lovable, when we’re scared and cranky and irritable.

This has been a difficult, stressful, often ugly time. And we can come out of it either bitter, or better. If we can manage, like the Grinch on Christmas morning, to emerge on the other side with our hearts a few sizes larger, it will have been time well spent.

COMING UP: Preparing your Home and Heart for the Advent Season

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The Advent season is a time of preparation for our hearts and minds for the Lord’s birth on Christmas.  It extends over the four Sundays before Christmas.  Try some of these Ideas to celebrate Advent in your home by decorating, cooking, singing, and reading your way to Christmas. Some of the best ideas are the simplest.

Special thanks to Patty Lunder for putting this together!

Advent Crafts

Handprint Advent Wreath for Children 
Bring the meaning of Advent into your home by having your kids make this fun and easy Advent wreath.

Pink and purple construction paper
– Yellow tissue or construction paper (to make a flame)
– One piece of red construction paper cut into 15 small circles
– Scissors
– Glue
– Two colors of green construction paper
– One paper plate
– 2 empty paper towel tubes

1. Take the two shades of green construction paper and cut out several of your child’s (Children’s) handprints. Glue the handprints to the rim of a paper plate with the center cut out.

2. Roll one of the paper towels tubes in purple construction paper and glue in place.

3. Take the second paper towel and roll half in pink construction paper and half in purple construction and glue in place.

4. Cut the covered paper towel tubes in half.

5. Cut 15 small circles from the red construction paper. Take three circles and glue two next to each other and a third below to make berries. Do this next to each candle until all circles are used.

6. Cut 4 rain drop shapes (to make a flame) from the yellow construction paper. Each week glue the yellow construction paper to the candle to make a flame. On the first week light the purple candle, the second week light the second purple candle, the third week light the pink candle and on the fourth week light the final purple candle.

A Meal to Share during the Advent Season

Slow-Cooker Barley & Bean Soup 

Make Sunday dinner during Advent into a special family gathering with a simple, easy dinner. Growing up in a large family, we knew everyone would be together for a family dinner after Mass on Sunday. Let the smells and aromas of a slow stress-free dinner fill your house and heart during the Advent Season. Choose a member of the family to lead grace and enjoy an evening together. This is the perfect setting to light the candles on your Advent wreath and invite all to join in a special prayer for that week.

– 1 cup dried multi-bean mix or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
– 1/2 cup pearl barley (Instant works great, I cook separate and add at end when soup is done)
– 3 cloves garlic, smashed
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
– 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– Salt to taste
– 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend (basil, oregano)
– Freshly ground black pepper
– One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
– 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
– 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, extra for garnish

1. Put 6 cups water, the beans, barley, garlic, carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, 1 tablespoons salt, herb blend, some pepper in a slow cooker. Squeeze the tomatoes through your hands over the pot to break them down and add their juices. Cover and cook on high until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours. 

2. Add the spinach and cheese, and stir until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. 

3. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve with a baguette.