Betty Duffy

Friday, October 29, 2010

New York, April 2008: A Visit From Pope Benedict XVI

I meant to post this two years ago...

When I was twenty-two, I did a year of service in Rhode Island for the Regnum Christi Movement. Even though I spent the year considering whether or not I would ultimately consecrate my life to Christ in poverty, chastity and obedience, I made the drive home to Indy several times for family visits. Back then, I’d fill a thermos with strong coffee, leave at the crack of dawn or before, and chain smoke all the way home—a sixteen hour drive.

Aside from the caffeine and nicotine, it was a buzz to get behind wheel and travel with such abandon. It might have been my attachment to that feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency of crossing half the country by myself that made my decision to come home at the end of the year. Ironically, since I married and had kids, such high octane travels abruptly came to an end—not a bad or sad thing—just part of growing up and taking care of kids.

Now ten years later, it’s weird to think about going back to that kind of a life, even for a weekend. This time I’ll cross the country in a mini-van, and while it’s tempting to swill some coffee and smoke some cigs for an old time sake, I’m pregnant with number five, and I don’t think the baby needs that kind of stimulation.

I’ve learned that my cousin, a Dominican nun who was discerning her vocation at the same time I discerned mine, will also be in NY for the Pope’s visit. I haven’t seen her in years, and I know that any meeting on the sidewalk in New York City will be grossly inadequate. Still I feel a spiritual sisterhood with her since important phases of our lives paralleled each other.

We both studied abroad, she at Saint Andrews, me at Oxford, testing our call to academia. Finding that life wanting, we both came home and tested our calls to religious life. She took vows, I did not. But she has gone on to spiritually parent many children in her vocation as a teacher and principal, while I have gone about parenting my little brood. Even if we don’t see each other in New York, it feels fitting that we should both be there following the Holy Father in parallel.

Having had the experience of religious life, I am constantly amazed at how that life prepared me for the one I now live. Staying home with the kids is isolating, a cloister, but the dedicated act of not going places, not doing everything I might find appealing, has the effect of giving me greater focus and satisfaction with where I am.

In my current cloister, I am Mother Superior, and I have learned how humbling this position can be, and at the same time, how much responsibility it entails. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, and yet it is my duty to require obedience of my charges. I am the arbiter of God’s will for my children so my only option is to strive to be as Christlike and as authentic as humanly possible. If they feel that God’s will requires them to be subject to a screaming, angry nutcase, how will they ever learn to love the will of God as their own?

I wonder why I am here in New York. Everyone is young, and I’ve finally come to the realization that I am not. But there is a plan. The Holy Father is here in New York, and I am ever-so-slightly scared. What if terrorists blow something up? I could fall asleep driving on the way home. What about my kids home with my husband? What safety standard will be violated in my absence? There are so many risks in being here.

I have come to New York to see Pope Benedict because I like his writing. Why did I do that? I didn’t put much forethought into it. I had no anxiety. Some unknown forces conspired to get me here. I knew who to call for a free place to stay. I knew what to offer—my chaperoning services. It’s very odd that I made it this far. I am not tired. The drive was easy.

When I volunteered to chaperone a group of high school girls around New York City, my primary motives were my own rest and spiritual refreshment. Going to a Youth Rally at Dunwoody Seminary, I believed the Holy Father would be addressing me. I’m still young. I remember what fresh Holy enthusiasm feels like, and I’m not too old to experience that again—even as it becomes apparent that my other youthful dreams might not come to fulfillment. Famous writer? Probably not. Beauty Queen? Definitely not. But fresh young faith? It was maybe still an option.

Kate, a high school senior, also from Indiana, rode to the East Coast with me. She had just made a decision about where to attend college, and she was full of questions about how to survive college with faith intact.

I was more than willing to share my wisdom with her, certain that God wanted me to minister to these high school girls out of my font of experience paired with my still youthful vitality. I told her everything she needed to know to be prepared for college life--in 1994. I had shared all my knowledge, quantified with the caveat, “at least that’s how it was fifteen years ago,” and it was only 45 minutes into the conversation that I realized my knowledge was likely now irrelevant. We barely had email when I was in college.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog