A few years back, a Princeville, Illinois family I know hosted an Italian teen for the summer. This young man enjoyed many parts of his summer, but was mystified by the weather. In the rural Midwest, during the summer, a storm can pass every few days or so, so that at least three or four times a month it can be a “rainy day.” The young Italian said that rain was not supposed to fall in summer; every day was supposed to be sunny.
I was thinking about this as I prayed Holy Mass early this morning. About 5 a.m., as I was reading from the Gospel of the Mass, I heard a very loud noise outside, as if a tremendous wind had started to blow. Since I was in the 5th floor chapel, and since they are working on the roof of that chapel, I was hoping that it was not rain, while at the same time knowing that it was.
Everyone needs to adjust to weather in a place different from where they grew up, it would seem. Sometimes we foreigners in Romecall the months from November to March or so the “tunnel months” because the dark clouds move in, and can stay around, during all of those months. As we discovered last winter, those dark clouds tend to keep the temperatures a bit warmer, with perhaps only one or two nights a year with temperatures dropping near freezing. Last winter was sunny almost every day, but winter was “cold,” with several nights below freezing and daytimes in the 30s F.
The rain in Rome, such as this morning, can be unusual, for after May there can be weeks, months, with no rain at all, and then a storm can move through. For half an hour it can rain cats and dogs, pitchforks and hammer handles; it can rain enough for Noah to consider taking the ark out of dry dock. Then, all of a sudden, the rain stops and the sun comes out. The rain, which has managed to soak into the dry earth, turns things green for a few days, streets and sidewalks are flooded and washed clean, and then the sun and heat returns.
Life can be like that sometimes. A new project begins and flows smoothly for several weeks, and then problems arise which need to be worked through. A marital relationship can be smooth sailing for several months or years, and then a rocky period comes along. A job can be a dream job, but then figures fall, or a new boss changes the work environment, but work has to be done, and money has to be made to support the family. These are common experiences, but there is always reason to hope for better, and so we move forward.
The same phenomenon is experienced in the spiritual life. We go to Mass, we read from Scriptures, we have our daily prayer which includes our daily spiritual practices, but then a new child is born or there is a job loss, or we just get tired of our old routine and look for something new. Spirituality is much like life, in that we can be coasting along, with great, sweet, fantastic experiences of consolation showered upon us by the Holy Spirit, but then we reach a difficult time when we are not receiving those graces. Actually, we are still receiving those graces, but our emotional perception of those graces lessens. We are experiencing the grace and support of God still during those times, but not in a sentient way, not with our feelings, not with a sentimental emotionalism, but rather with a deep and constant understanding that we are with God and that God is with us, even absent a feeling of sweetness or comfort.
A married couple who has managed to persevere will tell us that it was not always easy, that they had to work through the low points in their relationship. Parents can tell you the same thing about their children. If our spiritual life is to us a way just to access emotional feelings of well being, we also might give up on our spiritual practices when our normal routine is disturbed in some way. We might be tempted to give up on daily prayer, or even to stop attending Mass on Sunday.
Sunday Mass is not about entertainment; it is not a continuation of our Saturday evening outings; we are not listening to music at a club or going to movies. Instead our spiritual practices, our attendance at Mass, express our need for God’s grace, which is showered upon us during these spiritual encounters much as the passing Summer shower enlivens the earth. Our regular attendance at Sunday Mass, in addition to fulfilling the Commandment, is our meagre way of telling God that — despite busy lives, and even though we don’t always feel his presence — we know he is there and we want to deepen our relationship.
Whether you are experiencing new highs in the spiritual life, or instead muddling through tunnel months, don’t get down; ask God to send a shower of graces into your life as you continue to remain faithful to him.
Just looked outside. Although the sun has not risen yet, the rains have gone, and it will be a fresh, brilliant, sunny, day.