Last Sunday, we attended at Église Saint-Irénée de Lyon the first Mass celebrated by the newly-ordained Fr. Nick Rettino Parazelli, who is part of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). In this parish (shown above, photo taken by the talented Christabelle Minoza), the Mass is celebrated in the beautiful and reverent Tridentine rite. This church is very important to me and my husband, as right outside its door did we first meet and where we got engaged, and we got married in front of its grand, ornate altars, with a heavenly choir singing the compositions we had chosen. Prior to us meeting there, however, this community had already been instrumental in the development of my faith and philosophy.
I remember the first time that I met Fr. Nick a few years ago, when he was back in Montreal for the summer. He was already in the seminary, and a common friend introduced us. I remember registering how young he was and how kind his eyes were. We didn’t talk much, as I was on my way out, but I do remember praying for him and his vocation throughout the years. What a grace it is then to see that he has been ordained! Attending his first Mass was indeed a joyous occasion.
Seasons of life
At the same time, hanging out in the Church basement after brought back a lot of memories of the months before I got married, before I even met the man who would be my spouse. Those months, in retrospect, were pivotal in my life: it was around that time that I believed I had everything. I had an exhilarating schedule of long hours in the laboratory and traveled a lot for observerships or for vacation. But I was building my career, I had many circles of friends with whom I spent time, and yet I was able to manage fitting in an hour workout daily at the gym, to read in leisure, manage my tiny apartment, and over time I added going to daily Mass to the mix. I could do everything then: I was unstoppable.
One of the circles of friends I kept then consisted of (young) people I met at the parish. Some were more the rank of acquaintances, while a few I’ve gotten to know better. Last Sunday, it struck me how I have not seen or spoken with most of them for a year now. I didn’t even see them there. Some have moved away with their spouses, having gotten married, some have made life-changing decisions with their careers and vocations, and some people have stayed the same. All of these, for better or for worse. I was moved by such a strong sense of nostalgia, I had to pray for them.
I mentioned this in passing to another friend, one I had met at a later time, but who also attended Mass there that day. I also remarked how there were so many new people. She simply smiled and said, “Everybody has their seasons.”
She’s right. That season of being a carefree (yet highly efficient) single young adult has passed. Responsibilities take up days and nights—so much so that I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning, before I dash to the grocery with my toddler and get the house ready for friends this afternoon. I had accepted and thrived during that season of my life, my heart and mind expanding, loving and learning, preparing me for what would come next: becoming a wife and a mother.
The road (not) taken
When I have idle mental time, usually bought during menial tasks, I reflect on how would my life be if I had made different choices. For example, if I had stayed in the Philippines, if I had settled for gunning for Family Medicine as a specialty, or if I had not joined Singles for Christ (SFC), a young adult group under the umbrella of the Couples for Christ Family Ministries. I certainly would not have been led to Saint-Irénée and may not have met my future husband. Maybe I would have been an ophthalmologist, or maybe not. Perhaps I would still be chasing after what I thought were my dreams, instead of living them. Perhaps I would still be unmarried, with all the time on my hands, focusing on my career and myself. I would have been able to go to the gym, hang out with friends, spend my vacations lolling around reading fiction, philosophy, and theology, and be able to continue my skincare routines.
Sometimes, particularly when I am exhausted and frustrated, I wonder about alternate realities and how I would probably have done better. (Frankly, none of my what-if scenarios ultimately proved attractive.) But I would speculate that I would have had more time to pray, to spend with friends who are sick and need time and attention. I could volunteer more. I could have done more and be less tired, I’d imagine.
But then I’d gaze upon my daughter, finally sleeping soundly but not without a struggle, her peaceful, beautiful face calming my thoughts. I’d feel my husband’s gentle affection, and I’d think of what we have and what we had built thus far (and not without a lot of help from family and friends). This is the (precious) lot I had been granted in life, with all its happiness and difficulties.
Gratitude would then overwhelm me, punctuated by a resolve to do better.
A friend’s reminder
I would like to share some words written by a spiritual friend, an ordained saint (yes, saints are friends!), one whose words have kept me company through difficult times in the past. I was reminded of these words while I was conversing recently with my husband and attributed them wrongly to St. John Henry Newman when, in truth, they were written by St. Claude La Colombière. He was a Jesuit priest and spiritual director to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
He wrote, on prayer and recollection, the following wise words.
You think you would be less distracted if you were away from the circumstances in which God has placed you; I think, on the contrary, that you would have fewer distractions if you accepted things with more conformity to God’s will and if, in your work, you thought of yourself as a servant of Jesus Christ whom he employs as it seems best to him and who is equally content in whatever service is exacted from her. Try to live in your present state as though you were never to leave it; think more of making good use of your crosses than of getting rid of them under pretext of having more liberty with which to serve God.
Exterior employment is no obstacle to solitude of heart when the mind is calm and leaves everything in God’s hands; when all that one does for others is done with humility and resignation; when we believe that nothing happens without God’s permission; when we obey others as God himself; and when we persuade ourselves that their words, actions, temper, conduct, faults, everything in general and in particular, is ordained by the will of God, who knows all that is to happen and who allows and wills it for our good and his glory.
I have promised with God’s grace not to begin any action without remembering that he is witness of it—that he performs it together with me and gives me the means to do it; never to conclude any without the same thought, offering it to him as belonging to him, and in the course of the action whenever the same thought shall occur, to stop for a moment and renew the desire of pleasing him.
God is in the midst of us, or rather we are in the midst of him; wherever we are he sees us and touches us: at prayer, at work, at table, at recreation. We do not think of this; if we did, with what fervor and devotion we should live. Let us often make acts of faith, saying to ourselves: God is looking at me, he is here present.St. Claude La Colombière, 1678
Ah, beautiful words to remind me what my priorities should be! Reading his words shows me how I can serve God and remain faithful and with zeal, despite the demands of daily life. My present labors, in work and at home, are not an “other” and are instead the means with which I have been called to glorify Him.
Coincidentally, tomorrow is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He’s another one of my spiritual friends who has helped me be who I am today. Ad majorem Dei gloriam!