As I gathered all my diet books and exercise cheat sheets to prepare to battle the last 15 pounds that have taunted me throughout my year-and-a-half postpartum, I was struck with the fact that I haven’t given half this amount of thought to the changes in my life that really matter. Changes to make myself a better person, changes to really improve who I am and the world around me. Will my grilled chicken and zucchini kabobs (with a side of quinoa, of course) teach my children compassion, love and the art of self-giving? Sure, a healthy lifestyle certainly has value, but changes in the way that I live the Gospel have everlasting effects.
A few years ago I reconnected with an old friend via Facebook. His life had taken a terrible turn, and the once-married Catholic schoolteacher was now in and out of treatment facilities and jail as he battled a heroin addiction. I followed his struggle as he chronicled the ups and downs of his battle to stay clean and often saw him request support and assistance in his posts. I resolved to send him something to ease his journey: a restaurant gift certificate, prayer card or a kind note of encouragement.
Earlier this year, I was alerted to the battle faced by the sister of a childhood friend. After being born with a heart defect that gave her a grim prognosis of not living past her teen years, she had blossomed into a beautiful 30-year-old woman, married with a young son. She was now courageously undergoing a heart and lung transplant, and because she also cared for her ailing grandmother, a care calendar was sent around to help alleviate the practical necessities of feeding and caring for her family. I was moved by her posts of trust in God’s plan for her future and enthusiastically contacted the family for her address so that I too could send a meal and well-wishes.
But sadly, in both these instances, my cards were never sent. I was busy. Though I diligently placed these tasks on my to-do list, as the weeks passed they moved lower and lower on the priority scale until they were removed completely.
In the past three weeks my friend who struggled with addiction was killed in a tragic car accident. And the body of the sweet mother who suffered through the pain and brutal recovery of her surgeries rejected the transplants. She was quickly moved to hospice where, this morning, she took her last breath.
Don’t get me wrong. When I look back at the last several months, I am comforted that I haven’t been a total loser. Many cards were sent and many dinners were brought to families as they faced unforeseen crises. But these two instances stand out to me. Why? Because I know that I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to be a small consolation to these specific people and I failed. And now the opportunity is gone.
Sure the intention was there, but intentions are a sorry excuse for the benefits of action. As Christians, we are better than good intentions. We must bring light to this topsy-turvy hurting world. And now, at the pope’s urging, we must renew our commitment to and be ever-vigilant of the fact that we are vessels of Christ’s mercy.
Diet books move aside. First and foremost, I want to be a light. I want to live the Gospel. I want to take the year of mercy and be truly merciful. I want to be attentive to the Holy Spirit so that I don’t miss the opportunities he sends me. And I want to live the example of Blessed Mother Teresa, and in this year of her canonization, do as she urged: “Go out into the world and love the people you meet.”
If I can set my alarm for a 5:30 a.m. workout and (painfully) embrace a carb-free existence, then I can also commit to changing my heart. Let every day begin with this sweet and simple prayer to the Holy Spirit: “O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will” (written by Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercer).
Maria Garabis Davis holds a Juris Doctor degree and a BA in theology. A former youth minister and now practicing attorney, she resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four children.