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For Groundhog Day, I imagine Catholic bloggers everywhere are weighing in about the movie by that name. It’s so Catholic! How can we resist?
I love this movie, and only regret that it’s not quite appropriate for young kids. It’s an extended metaphor for coming to grips with life’s terrible daily-ness. The main character – a jaded, worldly bachelor doing the obligatory annual report on the groundhog for his TV station – finds himself inexplicably trapped in one day – living it over and over with, apparently, no way out. As the horror of it dawns on him, he tries suicide. When even that doesn’t effect his escape, he turns to despair’s other alternative, hedonistic abandon. When it seems nothing can ever enter his alternate me-verse to lighten its burden, something does.
The human beings around him – formerly mere objects – begin to awaken him to the possibility of finding himself in the unending day by stepping outside himself for their benefit. As he purposes to fill that day with responsiveness to them, the day becomes more bearable. The one thing that can change from day to day, is the self. He gets to retain experience in memory, learn to play the piano, memorize poetry. Whatever else happens in the cramped limits of that day, he is becoming and cohering in increasing dimensionality outside the reach of the trap that holds him in time.
Love for the station’s beautiful producer awakens his desire not merely to serve, but to know and love another person. To plumb her mystery, to be worthy of her, to love her for her sake and not to manipulate or use her, become the goals that lift his unending day into something that approaches transcendence. Alas, though their time together partakes of eternity, it always ends with the day and is lost to the one who has no memory. Two kinds of ‘newness of life’ are in contrast: a horrible, memory-less, ever-new-ness which traps a person in an endless, impotent, fruitless childhood, and a marvelous freshness which by the power of memory coheres within a person, as person.
Into the now moment of chronos he seems fated to endure, kairos bubbles in through this person, in this person. The actuality of a love from beyond enters time, raises itself up within the very being of a man, and in his willingness to detach from all but love (all expectation of reward, fulfillment, future, pleasure) becomes the power that breaks through an awful magic that sought to unmake that man by tempting him to despair. Self is seen and followed to its destiny in the gaze of an Other. Life is acknowledged to be a gift, however hard it is to bear. Mystery breaks in through personhood to trump a lower and limited reality with its super-reality.
Sounds Catholic to me!
So, why plan? Life…it’s what happens when you’re planning something else, right??
Much of my adult life has been spent learning to balance the idealism of planning with the realism of life. If I give up on time management, I lose things that need time in order to build up – like community, tradition, books, gardens. If I can’t roll with the punches of lived life, I’ll end up reacting against reality, instead of responding creatively to it.
Fr. Giussani (yes, those who know me well should have this memorized!) says that freedom is “correspondence to reality in the totality of its factors. My projects, hopes, ideas, desires and energy level are factors, and so are the needs of others, the weather, the response-ability of other people, and all the other externalities that interfere with my idealistic scheduling.
I’ve found that good planning practices provide a structural framework that allows me to maintain interior freedom. That freedom brings capacity to absorb life’s punches and ride life’s waves better. My practices currently look like this:
Right after Thanksgiving I print out my list of Standing Dates, and 12 blank monthly calendars for the next year. Transferring the birthdays, tax deadline, Holy Days, annual and monthly chores and other ‘every year’ dates to the months provides the basic ‘landscape’ for the year. Here are indicated our In School days, and my At Work days, without any details about specific tasks.
Next, I take out the bulging file marked ‘Next Year’ and ‘map’ any commitments to specific dates. Finally, since that file contains everything I’ve hope to fit in ‘next year,’ I sort all the little slips of paper, articles and other to-do reminders into quarterly files – a rough idea of the season when it makes sense to consider scheduling them into real dates. I put “check Q file” on the last Saturday before each new quarter, and then forget about all this. A system won’t work if my mind stays preoccupied with what’s in files for later!
During this relaxed weekend (all leftovers!) I lay out my work priorities for the coming year from a separate ‘Work Basket.’ This sequence keeps home and family obligations ahead of my part-time ‘job’ of writing, speaking, etc…. Doing the ‘next year’ planning now gives me a much more relaxed Advent and Christmas. During December, I can let go of the new year completely, knowing it will come in its time, instead of having that mountain of to-dos looming threateningly on the horizon.
On the last Saturday before each new quarter, I take out the Q file and list each item on the Notes area of one of the next three months. The actual scheduling will not occur until I plan those months. I toss all the slips of paper, keeping only backup material that is needed for an item, such as a coupon, or how-to article, in the Q file – noted by an asterisk on the list of tasks. A few things get pushed into the next Quarter’s file (I use 3-hole-punched plastic envelopes in a binder).
The last Saturday of each month is Plan Next Month day (on the list of Standing Dates, and so now already marked on each month’s ‘map’). I transfer the month to a Weekly layout. Behind the tab ‘Weekly’ is a blank week to copy, and a weekly chores list. (I’ve also used a purchased calendar with both Monthly and Weekly spreads. The key is that the weeks stay pristine and blank until I consciously plan them.) Taped to the back, or behind each month’s tab in the binder, are any slips of paper kept as reminders of tasks to fit into the more finely detailed weekly plans. Anything new that comes in after the weeks are laid out must either be scheduled directly on a particular day, or put off until the next month. You may want to re-read that last sentence!
If it cannot be scheduled within the details I’ve anticipated for these next 4-5 weeks, it is a Next Month task. Either I note it directly on the future month’s map as a scheduled item, or tape a note there to be considered during that monthly planning session. I have to trust my system to keep hold of all this future stuff so that I can walk away from it without worrying about it! I don’t want to get bogged down in the future, or to allow my current weeks to get overburdened. Those near-to-now days and the buffer allowed in them for the intrusion of unavoidable realities must be protected.
On Saturday, I transfer my Next Week to a daily list. This provides one more chance for a reality check, some shuffling and the addition of a dinner menu for each day. Over the years, I’ve sometimes created monthly meal plans, and could pull this week’s menu from that plan and make adjustments as necessary. Today, I’ll also look through The Basket, where all week I’ve been tossing tasks that come in after my week began. The Basket protects my whole week from unnecessary interference, and I trust it to hold all the slips of paper that represent new tasks that arise during the week.
Sunday is Sabbath (you did read Souls at Rest, right??) – no computer on, no email, no schedule for tasks (perhaps a tiny reminder: ‘Dance at 3 today,’ ‘thaw chickens for dinner,’ ‘serve at soup kitchen 1-3,’ ‘HB for dinner.’) Your Sunday may be different – be acted upon more than you act upon the world, please!
The better I get at just doing whatever is on my day’s list, the smoother everything runs. I get into trouble when I rebel against the system at this lowest level, where the heights of idealistic planning meet the smallness of actuality. On my day, the structural elements are in in (such as ‘School Time: 8-12,’ ‘Dr. Appt. 10:00,’ or ‘Blocked for Writing Project’) and flexible-time tasks are in pencil. (I love to erase them when done, thus making my visual ‘day’ more and more open and spacious as I do what needs to be done.)
Information about, or for, other family members appears on my day only if it is my responsibility to manage/remind/supervise them – off to the side of ‘my day,’ if possible, and in a different color ink. Sometimes I take time to play with markers, decorating the six next days and placing them in strangely shaped ‘boxes,’ and at other times I want my days in plain, symmetrical boxes, or on separate index cards instead of on one page. I have found that a little playfulness with the physical ‘day’ can help me approach a ‘next week’ with a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment.
What about all the new to-dos that crop up when I check mail and email, take phone calls, remember something urgent, or get a new idea? Those, if not right now scheduled for a specific date, get tossed into The Basket. They wait until my planning for the next week, when I either fit them into specific days, or send them into the next month, quarter, or year. Most of what comes in during a day is not of an emergency nature, and will only derail me if I let it. Much more is just information to file away after weekly planning – not a matter for scheduling at all.
Physical vs Electronic
I have experimented with electronic calendars and it was a miserable failure for me. I felt lost without the actual handling of the ‘materials’ of my life and the physical maps of time. I felt utterly disconnected from the reality I was trying to order. It didn’t surprise me that the plans I carefully entered into the computer failed to prepare me, as my physical handling does, for realizing those plans in Real Life. There is something about moving tasks around, knowing they are physically stored, touching my own past thoughts and future time, and letting a calendar or list make a space of time a vessel to be filled creatively that requires real paper, scissors, tape, files, markers, pens, and ink!
Well, that’s the basic framework. The details have changed drastically over the years (‘Daily’ chores may now be ‘monthly,’ many new birthdates have been added to the Annual list, my work days are now ‘official,’ I do ‘Bills and Budget’ once a month now instead of weekly), but the basics have continued to serve me well even as I’ve adjusted and improved them. I recommend you gradually begin while the kids are little, but expect very little until the average age of your children is about 10! The test of any organizational system is whether it supports the realities of our human lives effectively. I am able to ‘find time’ for quite a lot of ‘unplanned’ reality within my own near-future-picture, because I keep it spacious and realistic. I invite God to surprise me, and welcome the adventure of each new day.
Whatever planning you do, I wish you freedom in and through it!
Since my middle name is Elise (German for Elizabeth), I asked God to help choose from the various Saints Elizabeth an appropriate patroness. As an adult convert, I hadn’t had one chosen for me by my parents, but trusted He would find a way to introduce me to just the right one. I met St. Elizabeth Seton in the pages of a biography and knew that I had discovered a woman who would help fit me for the challenges facing me as wife, mother, friend and disciple of Christ.
Elizabeth Bayley was born in 1774, into a young America. The fiesty and fun-loving daughter of an Episcopalian doctor and his wife, Elizabeth thoroughly enjoyed the fashions and New York social whirl of her day. She caught the eye of William Seton, son of a well-to-do merchant family, and shared with him a love of music, dance and theater. Their marriage was considered by friends and family an excellent match.
By 1802, she and William had five children. They made the wrenching decision to take only Anna Maria, the youngest daughter, with them to Italy where they planned a stay with friends for the good of William’s failing health. The ocean voyage was not the cure they had hoped for, and the Setons were forced from the ship into prison-like quarantine by Italian medical authorities. For six weeks, Elizabeth and Anna tended him with devotion and prayer as he lay dying. When the ordeal was over, his dear friends the Filicchis, opened their hearts and home to his widow and child.
The Filicchis marveled at the strength of Elizabeth’s faith, and willingness to accept the most difficult trial of her life as the will of God. She was deeply impressed by their strong Catholic faith – stirred by its depth and beauty and by a longing to possess their confidence in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. After three months she felt anxious to return to her bereaved children, and departed with every assurance of the Filicchis’ love, prayers and willingness to help her as they would have helped their beloved friend William in any way possible.
Long after her return to New York, she struggled with her doubts, and with the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of a conversion hotly opposed by family and friends. Ultimately, she could not resist the growing certainty of God’s will in the matter, and was received into the Church at St. Peter’s in March 1805. She considered her Catholic faith a great gift from God, and was willing to endure any loss for the sake of following where He led.
Disowned and shunned by many because of her scandalous conversion, the gregarious Elizabeth clung to her faith for strength to face a loneliness she could never have chosen for herself. She had been refined by fire during her husband’s last days, and now she grew in spiritual maturity bearing the loss of goodwill, friendship, social standing and financial help. The young widow patched a living together, gratefully accepting the charity of family and friends and tutoring a few young boarding students.
In 1808, Elizabeth accepted an offer to open a Catholic school for girls in Baltimore. The school’s stress on the integration of religious and spiritual instruction with academic pursuits was unique, giving rise to her reputation as ‘foundress of American parochial schools’. In the midst of the dawn to dusk duties of mother and schoolmistress, Elizabeth kept up a rich correspondence with loved ones. Her letters were full of heartfelt concern for others’ needs, spiritual encouragement, honest reflections on her own weaknesses, and humorous observations on the ups and downs of her busy new life.
During the year she spent in Baltimore, plans were made to start a religious order to teach girls and serve the poor, with Mother Elizabeth as its directress. Thus, the first American religious order, the Sisters of Charity, was born in 1809 in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Special provision was made to accommodate Elizabeth’s primary responsibilities to her children. Taking as their habit her own simple black mourning dress, cape, and white tie-on cap, seven sisters began life in community under a rule patterned on that of St. Vincent de Paul.
Over the next twelve years, Elizabeth endured the deaths of sisters and daughters, desperate concerns for the spiritual welfare of her sons, difficulties in disagreeing with and submitting to her superiors gracefully, recurrent physical problems, and all the trials of overseeing the life and work of the community. Her letters and journals open to view the spiritual wealth gained through these years of struggle to submit entirely to the will of God in all circumstances. During her final days, in 1821, she often repeated a prayer of Pius VII:
May the most just, the most high and the most amiable will of God be in all things fulfilled, praised and exalted above all forever.
The study of her life brings home to me the message that it is real people who become saints! Through earnest intention to receive all that God would give in the form of hardships and suffering, responsibility, spiritual direction, and the authority and sacraments of the Church, Elizabeth Ann Seton moved through doubt, discouragement, stumbling, frustration, failure, heartache, and pain to become the first native-born American saint.
Here is my response to a friend who sent the article, “Making Dogma Out of Unsettled Science,” from Crisis Magazine.
Fr. Rutler makes some great points! I don’t think there is any danger of this Pope allowing dogma to change, though, whatever sympathy he seems to show with iffy science and world-worshippers. I think this article is very valuable except for this bit of unnecessary worry the author introduces. It makes a point, but to those who truly care about dogma (and who are fighting against those who hold their ‘tenets’ as inviolable dogma without admitting scientism has become their religion and filter for encounter with reality), it raises as a fearful prospect a possibility the Holy Spirit prevents.
As for the projection onto the walls of St. Peter’s, I hate it, loathe it, react against it, and then I imagine the Pope’s smiling face reminding me that the Immaculate Conception is about Mary’s ‘immaculate receptivity’ to the Word and then to the cries of us all for His help. I’ve said for many years now that the children of this world who are so desperately afraid for the earth and for themselves must be shown, whatever it takes, that the Church is NOT the friend of the post-enlightenment scientific reductionism of overrational, atheist materialists. They are rejecting much that the church rejects, but they have jettisoned the church in the process, wrongly identifying her verbal, logical, historical, and legal interests with the ‘establishment’ that has let them, and the world, so badly down.
If the Holy Father saw fit to let them play upon his walls, I know he hopes it will help them see themselves as SEEN BY the Mother Church they are longing for when they worship Mother Earth. None of us can live rightly without this ‘being held in’ the being, the gaze of an Other. It begins with a mother, and many of the world’s children are essentially motherless, when moms cannot offer this hospitality of the heart. It continues with a father, and they may have only a “corporation man” who betrays and uses and does not sacrifice his interests for the sake of life. It should, rightly, go on with a Church, and they have only their peers to guide them and exacerbate their fears.
Poor, dear little ones! If they can begin somehow to believe the Church can hear them, can embrace them, can let them affect her like a child affects the mother (both at a deep, heart level, and at an annoying, crayon-on-the-walls level), they may enter further and be rescued. The Immaculata is a transparent lens through whom we can best see Christ, but also one through whose love and tenderness He can best reach the least of these.
I think the Pope let those white walls of St. Peter’s be a pure surface on which the children could see their concerns imaged – an image of Mary Immaculate herself. Yuck, like sour milk and poop and vomit and blood, but for the good of the little ones…okay by me!
The Church must not only proclaim Truth to the world, but turn and voice the world’s concerns to God. In this stooping to hear, and this turning to take up the needs and concerns of the children, she turns them toward their Father. Mary and Pope Francis are leading us to this maternal dimension of the Church’s full realization. We have been stuck, perhaps, in our own linear march toward progress in the spiritual life, or the goal of evangelization, and need to be awakened to the tender and un-self-protective movement of the Holy Spirit. I believe the amazing doctrinal strength we see consolidated in the last two pontificates gives the Church a strong, coherent ‘sense of self’ so she can better risk this loving condescension that encounters the world and speaks to its cries for help.
Be not afraid! It’s just the crazy, earth cleansing, world turning wind of the Spirit shaking things up and standing us on our heads!