Today I had worked 18 straight hours beginning at 9pm the evening before. After adoration I had the rest of the night off. I had the use of a car for the evening, so I ran off to a Starbucks to get away, read, relax, and decompress. I’m exhausted, burnt out, impatient, frustrated, etc. I don’t see any other way to decompress at the moment than to simply write. I don’t say all of this, however, to seek sympathy. It is actually a beautiful thing to be experiencing this utter emptiness. Let me explain. (NB: I must be extremely careful about sharing information of the patients here. So if things seem vague at times, it is the respect the privacy and confidentiality of the men we serve at Gift of Love).
Yesterday was insane. I woke up at 7:00am and began working at 7:30. We had to get things going earlier in the morning because there was a lot of things to do to set up for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Gift of Love. After feeding the residents and patients, it was off to getting them showered, cleaned, and dressed. Then there was a lot of cleaning to do around the house, so we busied about that. At 10am I was “off” to get things ready for the Mass. You see, I was the MC for this Mass and the Archbishop of San Francisco was the celebrant. I was the only server and, at times, I did the job of four servers at once! It was at those moments that I wish God had given man 4 arms. But, I am getting ahead of myself. So, I walked through the Mass to ensure I had all my stuff right. I figured that maybe the bishop would bring his mitre. Well, not only did he bring his mitre, but also his crozier! So I just trusted in the Holy Spirit to do what I needed to do during the Mass. There was also incense, which I was also in charge of, though, thankfully, Deacon Ben was there as well so he did most of the incense jobs as was his liturgical duty.
BUT…before all this, the bishop showed up EARLY! We thought he would arrive for 10:45 (the Mass was at 11am). He should up at 10:10am. So we gave him a tour of the facility and were also busy running about to do what was necessary to get ready.
We vested in the Sisters’ convent and then processed from there to Gift of Love. It was a BEAUTIFUL Mass! It was pretty neat to be processing through the empty parking lot towards the patio to the beautiful (though an octave higher than I am used to) singing of the sisters and those present. About 40 people showed up who were somehow associated with the sisters there in Pacifica. I also was asked at the last minute to do the reading because I was the only one around with a voice loud enough to read without a microphone. So I did. The Mass was great, everything went without a hitch and the Archbishop – so the sisters tell me – said twice to them how reverent the Mass was! (Interesting sidenote: the sisters are not allowed to have anyone within the convent walls except for two reasons. The first is that someone is doing some sort of repair work inside. The second is that the local bishop is allowed in and even to eat with the sisters. He is the only one that is allowed to do this).
After Mass was a huge reception and, in true MC style, there was WAY more food than what we could possibly finish! People had a blast and I got to meet many of the people associated with Gift of Love. There were pictures too (the sisters received a dispensation from the Archbishop as they are only allowed to have their pictures taken once a year)! One of the photos that was taken was with three women next to a statue of Mary. They all had canes. Sr. Faustine (the awesome sister who is in charge of Gift of Love) was screaming “Get the cane ladies!”. I asked afterwards why she wanted a picture of women with canes. She explained to me – as she told me I remembered that these exists for the MCs – that these women were the suffering co-workers. Their duty was to offer their sufferings for the residents of Gift of Love. These women suffer a LOT, but how beautiful it was to have them there and to see their joy.
So then there was the clean up and I was on, essentially, until 5pm that day. I quickly ate dinner and then made my way to the Sisters’ convent for evening prayer and adoration. I then had 2 hours free and then was on at 9pm. So began my 18 hours straight of work.
We have a new resident. All I can say is that he is a man who is capable of helping himself but refuses to and is demanding our complete and undivided attention all the time. I have a sense why he is like this – he is alone, perhaps even feels abandoned. But he is difficult. I would go to lie down and every 10 minutes he would be yelling my name for something. He didn’t sleep that night, though I did get a few hours of sleep (4, I think). I did my best to aid him, but Sr. Faustine is also insistent that we learn boundaries with this man as well: that he cannot have our complete attention at every moment, that there are others in the house who, at the moment, need our attention more than he does, etc. At first, it is not so difficult. You bear a smile towards him, remembering his pain, suffering, and his need for love. In those moments, love is easy. When love is easy like that, I have learned, it is love, but it is not the love of the Cross. The love of the Cross is much more difficult and, as my day went on, I saw how difficult it was to choose love.
I went to Mass at 7am and then returned to help the two hospice patients with whatever they needed and to give out the meds. I, too, ate breakfast and looked forward to the arrival of Sr. Faustine. I had managed to get through it all, and though my patience was bearing thin, I knew that soon relief would come and I could have the time off that I was so eagerly looking forward to. Sr. Faustine came in and then we began to talk and talked for a good 45 minutes (something we have a tendency to do, she has a lot of wisdom from all her work there and I have learned a lot from her). Then she asked me if I could use my break time by looking after another hospice patient of ours who is weak, but tends to wonder around in confusion. She asked only because there were virtually no sisters there in the morning that day and she needed the extra hands. He was asleep on the couch so I figured I could pray, read, and just relax. As soon as I finished morning prayer I placed my books on the coffee table in the lounge to go and help this patient. It was the last time I saw my breviary and the other books I brought out until 3pm. I helped this patient and then then had to constantly go and help the other guy. I was learning to put up the barriers and boundaries and to enforce the house rules (which are there for the peace of the house and for everyone there!). As he yelled my name constantly, my patience grew more and more thin. I even lost my patience a few times. In those moments, love was hard to choose. All I wanted to do was tell him off. He was demanding so much of me! Plus, the other hospice patient was in need of my attention as he had a fall when I went to look after the other guy who was trying my patience. I found myself torn, broken, out of strength, energy, patience. To love in these moments was starting to get distant from my mind. It was the last thing I wanted to do. But I started to realize that it is in those moments that the love of the Cross comes pouring forth. When we have nothing left to give, it is only there that we are able to truly give. In our poverty, we give anyways. It is nothing, but, when united to Christ’s love on the Cross, it is everything. I felt like I had nothing left to give. At times, I gave into that temptation. It is so easy to give into human weakness and temptation. I would be looking after the confused hospice patient and the other guy would be yelling for me, and I told him I could not be with him (at one point, it seemed as if the confused patient was about to die, and the sisters do not want those who are dying to be alone!). He just yelled all the more. All I wanted to do was yell “SHUT UP!” But I didn’t.
Finally, I was relieved at 3:30pm and went to just lay in my bed for an hour and a bit. I spoke with Sr. Faustine afterwards and I came to realize in all this how much we are like this with God. We yell at Him, demand of Him so much, and look at the patience of our Loving Father!!! How often we offend Him with sin. When we sin, we are being infinitely worse to God than this man was being towards all the workers and residences of Gift of Love. So if God can show me that patience, care, and love, how much I have to do the same. Look at Jesus on the Cross! There, totally spent, with nothing left to give, on the break of expiring, he looks to the Good Thief and promises him to be with Him in His Kingdom! We need to hold out that same mercy, that same crucified love. It is only when it becomes painful, it is only when it hurts that the fruit starts to bear because it brings a real sacrifice on our part. Sacrifices, though filled with peace, are difficult. Sacrifice sucks, because it calls us to die to this body of sin so as to live one day in our resurrected bodies! But we love all as it is now.
At the end of the day, I was spent. I sat in the kitchen, eating dinner, feeling the burden of demand by this one man. It was very difficult to want to love him. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I was spent. I knew all I could do now was pray. So I went over to the sisters to join them for adoration.
It was during adoration that a huge realization came over me: it is only by giving, by giving and loving until it hurts, by losing ourselves that we gain. I cannot go any deeper at the moment. But it was a profound realization that what Jesus was saying about losing oneself was profoundly true. I was brought to the brink today, I gave everything I could this day. I don’t say that to boast, but rather to show that the fruit is not mine. Because, at the end of the day, I was able to receive God’s love for me, to know His love for me and to know that it is only Him that does the work in me. I am but an instrument. If it was me, I would have snapped much earlier. By losing myself, I was able to gain a deep sense of God’s love for me and to see His love for others. God REALLY loves us. But we need to lose ourselves to see this. This is, obviously, not the end, but a new beginning. The priority of living God’s love is how we come to receive it, and living that love is to totally give oneself completely until it hurts. The Cross is the logic of love.
My time of adoration was a real grace for me. It was also a place for me to go and rest with the Lord. Being completely emptied, I could only be filled by Him. And it helps you realize that you need to participate in that love so as to give to those who are emptied by the pains, burdens, and difficulties of life.
I came to see in all this, too, just how important it is to pray. Prayer works, it gives life, and it heals life. In prayer, we give to Chris the darkness of our lives and the lives of others so that, through His death and resurrection, He may transform the darkness into light. That is the beauty of all this. You see that in the deepest recesses of darkness, by virtue of Christ’s Cross and descent into Hell, there is a REAL HOPE for all. Death is where our sin goes with Christ so that, with and in Him, we can rise transformed with Him. It feels like annihilation, but it is really transformation. Nothing is lost in Christ. All is gained.