My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Monday, August 28, 2017

In Loving Memory

On August 21, 2017, at 12:30 a.m., Ann Marie Plunkett Brien died in the Lord.

She was 81. She had been disabled since 2011, when a stroke robbed her of her speech and of the use of her right side.

I was blessed to have been her caregiver since October 2012--for four years and ten months. Trying to articulate her impact on my life is going to be difficult.

She taught me how to make a good strong pot of Irish tea. (Heat the teapot first by pouring boiling water in and letting it sit while you boil the water again. Pour out the water in the teapot; put the teabags in the pot--use two for three people unless you want your tea to taste as weak as water--pour fresh hot water over the teabags, stir very thoroughly, then cover the teapot with a tea cosy to keep it hot while it steeps. The longer it steeps, the stronger the tea!)

She taught me the importance of small things; she was very particular about her clothes...not in a vain way, but in a "this matters" way; the whole idea of faithfulness in the little things.

She was generous. Yes, she hid her dark chocolate to keep the grandkids (she had 24!) from eating it, but she would share it with me sometimes.

She was patient. Sure, she got frustrated sometimes with the limitations of her illness...not being able to speak was a cross to bear...but for the most part, she bore that cross with patience and dignity.

* * *
We read a lot. I didn't keep a complete list, but we read Dickens' Christmas Carol, A.J. Cronin's Adventures in Two Worlds, Betty Smith's Maggie-Now, M. Raymond's The Man Who Got Even With God, Chaim Potok's The Chosen. We had just begun Henry Morton Robinson's The Cardinal a month before her death, and were only halfway finished with chapter one.  (Cronin, Smith, and Raymond were her recommendations; Potok and Robinson were mine.)

* * *
Grief stinks. It sneaks up on you while you're driving to work, or in quiet time before bed. It about knocked me over at the funeral; brought tears, even songs that I can listen to at other times, such as "Lord of All Hopefulness," "The Servant Song," and "O God Beyond All Praising."  There were some new songs, such as "Lady of Knock." The Communion song, "Holy is Your Name" made me smile through my tears, because it's to the tune of "Wild Mountain Thyme," a song that my friends and I know as "The Heather Song" because we have a good friend named Heather.

Death happens, and grief stinks, but nothing--NOTHING--can separate us from the Love of God.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

~Romans 8:28-29

Rest in peace, Mrs. Brien.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I'm still alive, and I want your input!

Hello, faithful readers! It is your unfaithful writer, checking in to reassure you that I'm still alive, that I haven't fallen off the face of the planet.

I see that I have only written two posts this entire year...

I'm sorry. I've been tired. There hasn't been much in my life that has seemed worthy of blogging about, and I try to keep the "brain-dumps" of ALL the thoughts in my head a rarity.

There's not a whole lot going on in my life these days. I get up, go to work if it's a Wednesday or Friday or if I've picked up a shift. (I don't have a permanent client on the other weekdays.)

On my days off, I run myself ragged doing errands. Take paperwork to the office, getting Little Car washed and vacuumed, grocery-shopping, etc.

I caught bronchitis from one of my elderly clients, so I haven't worked much this week. The other old people don't need to catch bronchitis from me.

I need your advice/thoughts/suggestions...if anyone's still reading this:

In the comments below, please give me two suggestions for future blog posts.

Thanks, and God Love Y'all!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prayer Request!

For the third time, dear blog readers, I come to you with a prayer request for my friend and history professor Brendan McGuire.

(Brendan at St. Patrick's Day this year. Photo shamelessly stolen from Flickr.)

He was just diagnosed with a second recurrence of Ewing's Sarcoma.

Brendan is 34. He has three kids under the age of 10. He's a good guy. This isn't fair.

He is having surgery tomorrow to remove the tumor. His family is asking for prayers for Brendan's healing through the intercession of Venerable Solanus Casey. Please keep Brendan, his beautiful family, and all of us who love him in your prayers!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Caregiving: Death, Faith, and Bedside Commodes

(...or when a blog post you started months ago takes a totally different turn....)

I am a caregiver. For three-and-one-half years, I worked privately; then, almost a year ago, I got a job with an agency. I've cared for probably a dozen clients; and while some have been axasperating, on the whole, I've liked them.

I lost a client in December. I only had the privilege of caring for her for two days at the end of October. The shift was a last-minute one that needed to be filled; I accepted it because it was nearby...and then I read my client's assessment and found out that she was dying. I was terrified: what if she died on my shift? what if she needed more than I could give? what would I say [I'm an expert at sticking my foot in my mouth in delicate situations]? But then I accepted it, and found a charming woman--funny, kind, gentle, grateful...and I picked up a shift with her the next week as well. It was heart-breaking to see how much she had declined in just that one week; but she was still funny and kind and graceful. I tried to pick up more shifts with her, but they were filled; and then her family came, and she no longer needed my company's services.

In mid-December, in a middle-of-the-night moment (I have too many of those), I looked my client up online, and found that she had died ten days previously.

I had known she was dying; but even still, the news rattled me.

I went to my office's Candelighting Ceremony in January. None of my client's family members were able to be present; I was the only one of her caregivers who attended; and thus, I was privileged to light a candle in her memory and to take home a white rose. When the rose wilted, I pressed the petals, and put them in a box, so I can always remember Ms. L.

I can't tell you now what it was I loved about her...I've had other clients whom I've known I loved during the time I was caring for maybe it's just the fact that she's the first client I lost, that's made her stick with me.

I believe in God. I believe in the resurrection of the body. I believe in life everlasting.

How does someone who possesses no faith--someone with no belief in God, in a life after this one--perform a job as a companion to the elderly, or a Personal Care Assistant (my title), or a nurse, or a doctor?

When I first started with this company, this was my mindset:
I am not a saint by any stretch of the imagination; there most definitely is no halo around my head; and there is no way in heck I would do this job for free. (I'm no Mother Teresa!) This is my job right now--I need money in order to live, to pay bills, to buy food, etc. This is only a job, only something I'm doing "until something better comes along."
Thanks to a change in circumstances, the job has moved on from being merely a job, merely something I'm doing for the money, merely something I'm doing "until something better comes along," to something more.

I don't want to call it a "vocation"; I don't think God is calling me to spend the rest of my life caring for the elderly (I hope He's not!) but I'm beginning to find the joy in the job, rather than to let the job take away all the joy.

A few months ago, I was emptying a particularly foul bedside commode, and the thought came--I hope in the form of a prayer: "I want to empty this commode as if I were doing it for You, Lord."  Now, let me be clear that that thought does not cross my mind every time I have to perform that task; sometimes it's pressed out through gritted teeth, from a tired caregiver who's not sure she's making a difference in anyone's life; sometimes, in the normal human disgust at the task, the thought doesn't occur to me at all.

However, that is exactly what needs to be my motivation--the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, that sends me into my clients' homes with a smile no matter how cranky I may feel.

Because this job is an opportunity to serve Christ in these elderly people. Because He's there. There is an opportunity for me to serve Christ in the lady with schizophrenia who does not seem to realize that "cleanliness is next to godliness." (Ms. B died in January...may she rest in peace.) I can serve Him by repeating myself three times as I try to have a conversation with the nearly-deaf ninety-seven year-old. And I can serve Him in the couple--both members of the Chosen People--whose request to go to the grocery store fills me with terror, because one of them walks extremely fast, and the other walks extremely slow, and somehow I have to keep an eye on both of them!

Christ is there. They're made in His Image and Likeness, so I have to remember, even on the most exasperating days, these words from Jan Karon's Mitford Series:

"Lord, make me a blessing to someone today."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Song Review: "Thy Will," by Hillary Scott

A few weeks ago, I heard a song on the radio. It was one of those times where I had the radio on as background music while I did chores, so I wasn't paying much attention to the lyrics. Then some of the words did catch my ear, and I stopped what I was doing to really listen. I closed my eyes as the words sunk into my heart.

 The song became a prayer.

I'm so confused
I know I heard You loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here

These first lines can ring true for so many of us: we're confused. And this isn't confusion about the big things such as why there's evil in the world; this is personal, intimate confusion, the kind that we voice only to the Good Lord or to close friends.

We thought we heard God telling us to do this; so we did it. Except...we didn't end up where we thought we would. We're confused, we're lost, we're hurting.

I don't wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of Your plan

We don't want to think too much about the situation, because we'll drive ourselves batty, or we'll end up frustrated and upset and in tears. The more people tell us, "Hang in there, God has a plan!" the more we want to scream: "But this situation/problem/ circumstance/whatever can this hurt, this pain, this frustration, be the plan of an all-good, all-loving God?  My heart is breaking; how is that Your plan, Lord?!"

And it's important to note that this song is a prayer; Hillary Scott is not talking about God; she's talking to Him. Sheen explains the difference in his poem "Complain" in Our Grounds for Hope: Enduring Words of Comfort and Assurance:

God does not frown on your complaint.
Did not His Mother in the Temple ask:
“Son! Why hast thou done so to us?”
And did not Christ on the Cross complain:
“My God! Why hast Thou abandoned Me?”
If the Son asked the Father,
And the Mother the Son – “Why?”
Why should not you?

But let your wails be to God,
And not to man,
Asking not, “Why does God do this to me?”
But: “Why, O God, dost Thou treat me so?”
Talk not about God, as Satan did to Eve:
“Why did God command you?”
But talk to God, as Christ to His Father.
(Emphasis added)

The song continues; we pray...or we try to pray...but all that we can find to say, the only words that come to mind, even if we're muttering them through gritted teeth, are the prayer of Our Lord in the Garden:

When I try to pray
All I've got is hurt and these four words
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

We recognize the goodness and omniscience of God; but because we're human and because our little finite minds can't see things as the infinite God does, we don't see how the goodness of God is manifest in this situation.

I know You're good
But this don't feel good right now
And I know You think
Of things I could never think about

As it says in Isaias 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. [9] For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.
We struggle to follow James' admonition to "count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing" (Jam. 1:2-4). The noise and the pain and the tears distract us from seeing the joy and seeing how God is keeping His promise to never abandon us (cf. Deut. 31:6):

It's hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all Your promises

What we need to remember during these times is that we're not God, we don't see the whole picture. He does; He knows where we'll be in twenty years and how we're going to get there. (Sometimes I'd like to know that ahead of time...or maybe not!)

Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that You're God
And I am not

When we return to the refrain, there is a new line: "Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is." From our earliest childhood, we learned to pray "Thy Will be done" in the Our Father; we learned it in the Bible story of Our Blessed Lord's Agony in the Garden. The "like a child" does not only refer to our childhood prayers, but to the childlike trust that we have to have in God to truly pray the words "Thy Will be done":

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will

The song continues with an act of faith and trust: we know that God sees our heartbreak, that He hears our plea...and that because He is all-good and all-merciful and all-loving, He wants to heal our broken hearts, answer our pleas, and dry our tears, whether in this life or in the next:

I know You see me
I know You hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness You have in store
I know You hear me
I know You see me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness You have in store

The song concludes with the refrain, the line about childlike faith, and a final act of faith:

So, Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
I know You see me
I know You hear me, Lord

Lyrics from

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chores, Surveys, and other randomness

I had thought about a few posts the other day...but unfortunately, I have begun to look at this blog as a chore; my thought process goes something along these lines: "O dear, I sorta told my readers I would write a blog post. Now I have to do it, dagnabbitall."

I just checked the stats of the two surveys I'd posted on here....A Majority Vote and Favorites and saw that someone had answered the survey recently. If you haven't taken either survey, please take them! I know they're old, but they're still open! (Especially since I forgot they existed....)

It seems that y'all's least favorite thing about this blog is the infrequent posts...I'm sorry! I frequently forget I have a blog......

Since my last post, I went out to the ol' alma mater for the Fourth of July, had a good day with my adopted family. And I went out to a surprise party to bid farewell to my adopted younger brother as he heads off to seminary in Rome. It was a ton of fun!

I can't remember if I told y'all this or not, but I have a new job. Actually, it's the same job I've been doing (caregiver for seniors), just with an agency instead of privately with only one couple. It's going...ok, actually. My attitude toward it hasn't been the best, leading to a lot of anticipatory dread the night before a shift, or a new client...but the anticipation has been worse than the reality so far.

The cons: I'm putting a lot of miles on my car, my first real paycheck won't be until the end of the month. (I forgot to call the office to tell them I was going to pick up my first actual paycheck, so they mailed it to me; it'll probably be here Monday. But it will be small, because I only worked one day in June.)

The pros: no one has had a psychotic break and flailed a hammer near my head. ("Hammer-phobia"'s a thing. I invented it three years ago. I suffer from it. It is a fear of hammers being swung around wildly, or used for something other than their intended purpose.) So far, the elderly people I've met have been polite, kind, etc.

The cons: people telling me "O, you're just like Mother Teresa!" when I tell them what I do. No, I'm not. She was a saint, she took care of the poorest of the poor" without pay. I am not a saint. I need money to pay the bills (ugh, bills...), to put food on the table, to keep a roof over my head. I do not think I could do what I'm doing for nothing. Not that it's been that difficult yet...but this is not my ideal job.

The cons: I think my job is trying to steal my life away. Since I told them I'm available from 9 am - 4 pm Monday through Friday...then I have to be available. This past week, I was scheduled for a one-hour shift Thursday. So I thought I'd go meet up with a friend. Then I got a text Tuesday telling me that they had assigned me to a 6-hour shift. My life belongs to this senior care agency....must not have read all the fine print on all those papers I signed. "I, Emily C. Hurt, hereby sign my life away to your agency for 24 hours a week."

Which reminds me of a poem I've been looking for. It was in one of the readers from Seton Home Study School; I think it was about a totalitarian government. The only lines I remember are: "Patriot, we want you whole, your ~ body, your ~ soul!" and the patriot replies something along the lines of "My soul belongs to Christ alone." Does anyone know what poem I'm talking about?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Random Five A.M. Musings

Hello, my dear, faithful readers. (Are any of you still left? I did notice that someone recently liked my blog's Facebook page, so I'm guessing someone still reads the Theological-Librarian...)

I'm sorry for not writing sooner; the past month or so has been crazy.

I accepted a job with a senior care agency...I'm really nervous about that, very afraid that I'm going to get burnt-out again, and I've barely even started! Plus, I'll be working on average of 7 hours per week in the month of July, so it would be ridiculous if I got burnt-out. Please pray that I can find ways to re-charge!

The day after that interview, I turned 27. My roommates made me cake at lunch, and then after I worked my evening shift for the elderly couple I care for privately, one of my roommates surprised me with a party at the local brewery! Five old college friends, plus a local friend, showed up. It was a total surprise, and tons of fun!!

Over that day of my birthday and the day after, I had a major disagreement with a friend. Thanks be to God, I can now say that that disagreement has been only took a month (sarcasm alert!)...a month full of stress, anger, jitters, and fear. I'm blaming St. Peter for the resolution, because it was on his feast-day earlier this week that I made the decision to drive out to where this friend works, sit down, and talk. We had a really good talk, and now everything's okay. (I really need to work on my tendency to hold a grudge... And my fear that my friends will get mad at me and never want to talk to me again when I stick my foot in my mouth.)

As of two weeks ago, I own a book autographed by Venerable Fulton Sheen. My roommate, who teaches at the Seton School in Manassas, found it in the library and showed it to me. I asked Mrs. Carroll if I could make a donation to Seton's chapel in exchange for the book, and she said "Yes." So, making book #27 in my ever-growing collection of books by Sheen, is his 1941 Declaration of Dependence, from which I hope to share some quotes over the next few days.

For now, feast your eyes on this picture:

Yesterday, I signed up for a free trial subscription to Because...if you can spend seven days finding and saving old newspaper articles regarding Ven. Fulton Sheen...why not?

The only other interesting things going on around here is that this is the second night in a row I've woken up at an ungodly hour (neither 4 a.m., nor 5 a.m. is a godly hour, just sayin') after nightmares regarding close college friends. You know, the kind where your friends are in danger and you can't save them?

So that's why I'm typing this blog post, which listening to this song:

Piano cover of "Good, Good Father" by Chris Tomlin

Bye for now, and God Love Y'All!