Relics and Everyday Miracles

Oh, hello, blog! It’s been a while. To recap the last year and a half-ish: we moved to Seattle! We had a baby! He’s the best! He’s four months now, so I’m just starting to edge my way out of survival mode and listen to the inner nudge to write. I do really miss it. So, here goes!

A few weeks ago I went with my wonderful friend Tess to venerate the relics of St. Padre Pio. He was a very cool dude. One of my favorite quotes of his is this perfectly practical one: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” I could only stand to benefit from that, oh, seventeen times a day.

There was a mass at the cathedral before the veneration, celebrated by our archbishop and auxiliary bishop. It was going to be fancy and holy, no doubt. I had never seen relics before, never been to the cathedral before. I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’m pretty sure I expected transcendence.

The morning of the mass I was scrambling to get our rosaries together to touch to the relics (this makes them third class relics). I couldn’t find my little rosary case, so I…put them all in a little hair tie bucket and scrambled out the door with Francis. Eric was staying home with Micah because he is, er, perhaps not at a great age for appreciating transcendence or long masses. But I wanted to have sweet Francis with me.

I drove downtown, got a spot in the garage, and trekked over to the cathedral, where Tess had saved us a seat. The mass was lovely, but Francis did not sleep through it, like he usually does, so I missed some of the hymns because his little foot was kicking the order of service.

After mass some instructions were given for how to form a line to approach the relics. But it quickly became clear that these instructions were being disregarded. Tess and I asked around and joined the line, which was very confusing (God bless those poor ushers). Several times we were told to move to a different line, and people clutching rosaries frequently asked other people clutching rosaries if they were in the right line. It was holy chaos. I bet God was chuckling.

After 30 minutes or so in line, during which time we had moved perhaps 5 feet, an usher approached us and asked if we would like a shortcut since we had a baby. I was prepared to stand in line for an hour more, but this was too nice of an offer to refuse.

Another family with a small child was led with us up to the front of the line. I was wearing Francis and the diaper bag, so I had to ask Tess to pull out my rosary hair tie bucket for me. I quickly fumbled the beads into my hands as we approached the reliquaries. Padre Pio’s mantle. His handkerchief. His glove. I touched the rosaries and my medals to the glass in what felt like a holy conveyor belt. And then it was over. Tess and I hugged and parted ways, and Francis and I headed back to the car.

Just as I was wrangling Francis into his carseat and pondering the unexpectedly ordinary nature of the whole experience…I dropped the little bucket on the floor of the garage. Third class relic rosary beads clinked their way under a neighboring car. Oh my goodness. They continued their peregrinations when I got home and a curious Micah dumped them out on the floor. Transcendence? I didn’t think so.

The rest of the day was a bit tough. I was sick with this cold that made my chest feel tight and constricted, I was having a flare-up of a recurring eye condition, and I was just tired from the week before. It was all of those things and the fact that parenting just asks a lot of you. By dinnertime I told Eric that I was going to try to hide in the kitchen and read a book, as soon as I delivered Micah his milk.

But something funny happened. I sat down at the table. Some force drew me there. I looked at my beautiful child and was overwhelmed by how much I love him. Instead of retreating, I read books to him and enjoyed his lively discussion of them for a good 45 minutes. And then we played cars. (That’s the natural progression of things around here.) It was amazing to be able to have such love to give when I felt so exhausted.

When I went to the cathedral, I carried a handful of prayer requests with me. At least one of them, if granted, would be a genuine miracle. But here was the miracle, right here in my own home.

I haven’t been the same since that evening. I’m not naive enough to think that this isn’t a lesson I’m going to need to learn 30 more times. But it’s a miracle nonetheless.

I have been reading several books by Father Greg Boyle, who runs Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. These books have also utterly reshaped my life and my view of God. There was one quote from his second book that I loved so much, I immediately wrote it on the chalkboard that hangs above our table: “Nothing is outside the realm of sanctity, for the world in infused with God’s presence.”

It touched me especially deeply because this is such a busy time in our lives, with two little ones to tend. It reminded me of my first meeting with my spiritual director, in which I was bouncing Francis on my hip and laughing about all the books I wanted to read and all the studies I wanted to do, but that I didn’t have an awful lot of time for that right now. “Or,” she said, with her characteristic wisdom, “Maybe it’s about listening to what God wants to say to you right here in this crazy busy time.”

I’ve been trying to see through that lens. And then, several days ago, it finally clicked into focus. I almost always sit with my back to the chalkboard, but that night Micah had asked me to sit on the other side. I looked across the table and saw Eric and Micah playing underneath those beautiful words from Father Greg. And suddenly, for just a moment, I got it. My family, the presence of God. A mess of cars and books and dishes, the presence of God. Endless supply of dried play-doh shards under the table, the presence of God. Tantrums, the presence of God. Baby smiles and baby cries, the presence of God. Joy and exhaustion, the presence of God. I went to the cathedral seeking transcendence. And here it was, right at my kitchen table.

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