This past Sunday, on my way back to the sacristy, I stopped to say hello to one of our many true blue, Daily-Mass-attending ladies (whom I shall call Helen). She was speaking to a few people about her coal-region hometown where, in her childhood, she would pick coal. The practice of coal picking was not unlike "gleaning" in the Old Testament book of Ruth. The harvesters would leave behind grain for the widow, foreigner, and orphan to take home (cf. Ruth 2). With this I was familiar, as my own father picked coal for the house in Shenandoah.
Helen went on to mention an astounding fact. Her mother, who also had picked coal, did so on the very morning that she took a bus to the hospital to give birth to her!
This is the kind of stock from which she came; and for her part, Helen went on to marry, have two boys and a girl, work to support the home, become very much involved in her parish, and eventually care for her husband during his mental and physical decline. Nearing 80, she has resumed membership in the choir (for which she and her husband had been singing until his dementia began), continues to attend daily Mass, and stays close to her kids as well as her older sister who lives back home. She has her own share of physical ailments, perhaps more than the average; but undaunted, she presses on.
I mention this woman's story as a sort of ecclesial service announcement. It's along the lines of the "Days of the Giants" narrative that every generation seems to take up in its time: "The kids today don't have it nearly as tough as we did," etc. But I spin it thus: as the Church, as a parish, as communities and as families, we will have it much tougher than they did--because I don't see many of us turning out as determined, devout, and dedicated as Helen's generation. Maybe it's too soon to tell, and maybe I'm more of a pessimist, but it's my current hunch.
I'd love to be proved wrong in time. Meanwhile, I will thoroughly enjoy people like Helen, and pray that God will raise up priests, religious, spouses, and parents of like stock. The current generations must ask themselves what they are doing to cultivate holiness and virtue in their charges. What kind of example are we capable of offering them, in terms of our own fidelity to commitments, our religious and spiritual sensibilities? Great athletes and great students, even great artists and musicians--spend however much time, energy, and money as you wish on such investments--but what about good churchgoers, from which arise faithful Catholics from vestibule to sanctuary?
In our time we scarcely can take for granted that ordinations, marriages, and baptisms will proliferate. (Funny, how the word proliferate starts with "pro" and continues with "life.")
"Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32).