By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians on Christian love impacted me in a new way during Mass Saturday night as I sat beside a fidgeting 28-year-old son with autism. Love is muscular and it bleeds, Father Joe said in his homily. He was reflecting on love that contrasts with the sentimental love couples think about when they choose that Scripture for their wedding.
My thoughts, however, were focused on the absurdity of a grown man fidgeting like the toddlers in the back of the church. A voice from within reminded me: He has autism. Cut him some slack!
At the end of Mass, Colin asked me, “Did I do a good job, Mom?” “You did a good job of not getting upset by the crying babies,” I said. That requires a tremendous exercise in patience for a man with extreme sensitivity to high-pitched sounds. But I also told Colin it would be better if he could keep his head facing the front of the church so he could focus on the Mass. He promised to do so next week.
Colin and I went for a walk after Mass along his beloved Mississippi River in LeClaire. At nighttime, it’s a smorgasbord of sights and sounds: red, green, yellow and blue lights reflected on inky black water; the I-80 Bridge, with cars and trucks rumbling above (my son loves the vibration); and the trees, naked. The leaves will come back in the spring, he reminded me.
Our conversation flowed; he’s excited about the “day hab” program he attends. He made a Valentine there for his brother Patrick, he told me, and it has to sit so the glitter can dry. He recited directions for a trip we’ll take this summer to northwestern Minnesota for a family reunion. Colin mapped out and memorized the highways. Abruptly, he stopped talking. His thoughts were a million miles away in a mind I can only pray to understand.
On Sunday, I read a Facebook post from Kent Ferris, a colleague and friend. The post included a brief video of a younger woman, a runner, talking about the road to recovery from alcoholism. Her attitude and humility touched me deeply. Kent wrote: “Every day my friends in the recovery community teach me valuable life lessons about how to overcome guilt and shame, how to appropriately express healthy humility and gratitude. Who are your teachers? Do not overlook the possibility of learning from those close to you who are merely aspiring to do the next right thing. They too, possess great wisdom.”
A lump formed in my throat, reading that last line. In discerning what I plan to do for Lent, I pestered family members to tell me what they planned to do. Steve, my husband, plans to continue bringing Communion to the nursing home where he is building relationships with people who look so forward to receiving the body of Christ. Patrick, my younger son, plans to pray more as a way to build on his relationship with God. Colin looks forward to the Lenten traditions of our parish: Ash Wednesday and the fish fry, Holy Thursday and the foot washing, Good Friday and kissing the cross, and the Easter Vigil, which evolves from darkness to the light of joy: the resurrection of Christ.
I’m going to work on embracing a muscular love that bleeds, and learning from those merely aspiring to do the next right thing. Father Richard Rohr reflects in his Daily Meditation Jan. 31 that “Love is not just the basis on which we build everything, but it’s also the energy with which we proceed, and it’s then the final goal toward which we tend.”
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)