Beyond the Reach of Virtual Mass and Virtual Bulletins

In my part of the world, the churches have been open (at very limited capacity) for a little more than two weeks. And as in just about every other place, we’re wearing masks, the hymnals have been removed, there’s no holy water in the stoups, and “holy hand sanitizer” awaits you at the entrance where you check in with the ushers of a Sunday, for low-tech contact tracing.

And there are no bulletins.

Sure, you can read them online — and I do — but when a good number of parishioners are not comfortable with technology (if they even have access to a computer or smartphone at all), those parishioners are cut off from the life of the Church in yet another important way.

Yes. Bulletins are important. If the parish leaders think it’s important enough to create a bulletin (whether or not it’s offered in printed form, and during this pandemic, it’s digital only) then there needs to be a way to get them to the people who, I’d argue, miss them the most.

I wouldn’t even have thought of this, were it not for one of my friends, a fellow Secular Franciscan, who lives alone and does not have access to technology. While she is in good health, praise God, she is the ultimate people person and has definitely suffered during this time of isolation. I haven’t seen her at Mass yet because I have been singing at a different time than normal, but our first Sunday back she saw our music director after Mass and mentioned that she really missed reading the bulletin.

The music director immediately reached out to me after that conversation to see if I had a mailing address for this friend and ask if I’d take care of sending her a bulletin. Since I have a computer and a printer and envelopes and stamps, how could I say no? So I’ve been printing the bulletin and mailing it out on Monday morning, with a little note to say hello.

Yesterday my friend showed up at my front door with a little gift and a thank-you note. It has meant a lot to her to receive those bulletins in the mail. It’s no big deal for me to do this, but it’s a big deal for her to get them. She thanked me several times — for the love. And that’s what it really is, just a small gift of love.

(Boy, that was a tough visit. I could see her holding herself back. She just wanted to give me a hug. Her arms would start to move toward me, and then she’d catch herself. As I said, she’s the ultimate people person and an incurable hugger. It was heartbreaking.)

Here’s my challenge to you: Can you bless someone who’s not a digital native? Can you print a bulletin for someone in your parish who has no access to technology, but would love to read the parish news? If you don’t know someone, ask at the parish office if there is a homebound parishioner who would like to receive a bulletin with a note and a promise of prayer. Who knows: you may foster a friendship that lasts longer than the painter’s tape marking social distance in the church pews.

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Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

 


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Limbo, Limbo, Limbo

Just trying to keep things normal here in my house, for my kids, and for my husband and myself, as we sit here in Oncology Limbo getting through a few more days until we have a better idea of what he’s fighting and how the hospital plans to fight it.

For the record, he will be treated at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country; I was there for my non-cancer surgery 6 months ago and we are comforted by the first-hand knowledge of the wonderful care I received as a patient in that hospital.

I am comforted by relatives and friends alike who have showed us so much care and concern (and made offers to help that I know enough to accept–and will do so soon). Some of these people are fighting their own battles with cancer right now. But they have reached out anyway–that means so much. Other friends have beaten cancer in the past.

Today I received a lot of encouragement from Pat Gohn. We were supposed to be recording a conversation to be used in her Among Women podcast, “Midlife Madres” series. I don’t know if Pat got anything she can use or not, but she knows how to listen and she knows what it’s like to go through this kind of scary time. I am grateful for each and every minute we spent on the phone today.

As I told Pat at one point, I am wrestling right now. There will be many decisions to be made. There will be things I’ll have to “outsource” to others, kids’ games I’ll miss, plans I’ll need to lay aside. It’s not so much a “why me?” kind of wrestling as it is a “how do I handle all of what we’ve got going on and keep our collective sanity relatively intact?”

I might look calm on the outside, but my unscientific research is showing that hot flashes increase exponentially along with one’s stress levels. Every so often it reaches its peak and the hot flashes bring along impatience, anger and, yes, tears. Even when I try my hardest to keep that from happening. So yes, calm on the outside, but my stomach is in knots and I think those knots are extending to the rest of me, because my pain level is off the charts today.

But there’s a rosary in my pocket, ever ready for a prayer or ten. I’m getting to daily Mass as much as possible. I’m thankful for the encouragement and advice I have received. And when this after-dinner cup of (decaffeinated) Irish tea doesn’t cut it, like now, I’m glad there’s a carton of chocolate-peanut-butter-cup ice cream in the freezer.

Bite-Sized Prayers

In the past few weeks, my family was blessed by many friends who showed up here with dinner during my hospitalization and recovery at home.  I can’t even express how wonderful it has been to be on the receiving end of a meal prepared and delivered with love.

And the kids are still raving about Sally’s Magic Chicken–as well they should.  It was delicious.

Every time a casserole dish came through my front door, I made a silent promise to myself that I would repay the favor, or at the very least, pay it forward.  But I didn’t expect that my first opportunity to do so would come quite so soon.

After yesterday’s follow-up appointment with my surgeon, I’ve been cleared to drive (though it’s still pretty uncomfortable to do that) and to increase activity gradually, except for heavy lifting.  I got back behind the wheel just in time to pick up a few ingredients for a dinner I’m making tonight for my friend Sally.

As I rolled up those turkey enchiladas, I prayed for Sally and her family.  I prayed for the soul of Sally’s recently deceased mother.  And it occurred to me that when our friends made us lasagna, pot pie, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken with spinach and linguine, homemade mac & cheese, pot roast, turkey, antipasto and that Magic Chicken, they were probably praying too.  I know that the prayers and love that were stirred into those dinners helped with my healing.  And I hope that the prayers and love that I rolled into those enchiladas help to bring peace to Sally’s heart and to her family in this difficult time.

Don’t think for a minute that delivering a meal to a family during a difficult time is a silly gesture or, worse, an unwelcome intrusion.  I was guilty of thinking that–until folks did this wonderful service for us.  Now that I know how much it means, I’ve resolved never to hesitate to help someone out in this way.

After all, there’s a prayer in every bite.

I Think I Need to Give This Cookbook Away


Father Leo Patalinghug’s book Grace Before Meals is much more than a cookbook. Yes, there are recipes–interesting ones! But more important than that, there is encouragement. And that’s why I’ll probably be giving away my copy.

Last night we had dinner guests: a mom and her little boy. Her husband works second shift, and I lost count of how many times she told me how nice it was to enjoy a family dinner. We had spaghetti, nothing fancy, but she said that she doesn’t do a whole lot of cooking when it’s just her and her son.

I want to find a way to tell her that she needs to make a point of having a family mealtime even if the whole family can’t be there. No matter how simple the meal–whether it’s a bowl of Cheerios or (shudder) Spaghetti-Os or a gourmet treat, where two or more are gathered for a meal, it’s a family meal. You’re all together at the table. Ideally, the TV is off. You give thanks for the food and the time to be together, and you enjoy your food.

I will say that everyone behaved themselves for company. Middle Sister refrained from regaling us with some disgusting tale in the middle of the meal. (She has a knack for making everyone else lose their appetites.) Little Brother showed our guest how to use the rotary cheese grater. That was fun for the boys, who delighted in making mountains of Romano.

But I want to encourage our dinner guest to have family mealtime. Her son is little now, and she’s with him a lot, so it might not seem so important to her. But she does notice something missing–for her. And as her little boy grows up, she will want him to know what family dinnertime is all about. She will want him to be nourished, not just by the food, but by the shared prayer, conversation, and love at the table. She will want him to have what she is missing now.

I hope Father Leo’s cookbook will help her get there, and that it’s not rude of me to offer it.

Thinking Of My Chili Buddy

I’m making a batch of “game day” chili for dinner today. And I’m missing a young friend of our family. She hasn’t been around lately to help me make the chili–a task she always enjoyed and volunteered to do.

She’s been held in my Pocket Rosary for months now–the “young family friend who could use as many prayers as possible.” I’m not in touch with her and have not been since I saw her last in October, so I have no reason to believe that she doesn’t still need those prayers.

So as I chopped the celery and onions, rinsed the beans, browned the meat, and added the spices, I prayed for my chili buddy. I’ll do so again every time I stir the chili.

May she find her way. And may God keep her safe.