Small acts a big deal

I was having a medical test — payback for an ill-spent youth and a middle age filled with bad habits, if the truth be told.

The technician informed me that after the test I would be radioactive for half a day and should avoid hugging babies and pregnant women.

No kidding. Radioactive. I asked, “Will I have superpowers?”

She responded with a clipped “no.” I think she heard that one before.

The test took around half an hour and most of that I spent alone and prone in a machine with my thoughts.

I started praying the Rosary, using my fingers as the beads. The test took the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, plus halfway again through the Joyful. I would have started on the Luminous, but I had a brain cramp and couldn’t remember them.

Afterward, I wondered if that wouldn’t be a good way to tell Catholic time to each other. “I was in line at the grocery for two full decades of the Rosary,” we could say.

That’s one of the joys — and solaces — of the Faith that seems underappreciated in modernity. The sacramentals, the quiet devotionals of prayer, the art on our walls and the statues in our hallways — there is a rootedness to the Faith, grounded in our daily lives that carries us through if we are paying any attention at all. Or even no attention.

In the home my mother and father made, the Faith was as natural as the breath in our lungs. It was in the prayers before meals and before bed, the intercession of saints for causes great and small, the fasting and the abstaining. A child learned through the slow minutes of each day the essentials of faith. In Catholic school, we were taught the catechism; at home we absorbed it.

There was a time when these things were dismissed as rote memorization or mere ritualism — even superstition. But going out of your way to put on that scapular day in and day out meant much more than just a pious act; it was an ordinary act that was an act of faith.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us that the Faith is lived in the little moments, so that when the big moments arrive, it is as natural to us as an old friend.

We now know — at least I think we know — that the Faith is meant to be lived and breathed, and shown and shared. It’s not only our belief, but our lives.

The Faith celebrates our joys and consoles us in our sorrows. It challenges us to do good and do better and gives us the grace for both in our days as we live them.

But it is also lived in the moment, and it is lived in the ordinary. It carries us through.

Years and years ago, my mother and her sister would take their little ones in baby carriages to the Sacred Heart monastery in Yonkers, N.Y., on Sunday afternoons when it was warm. They would join in an afternoon prayer service, two young mothers rocking their little ones to the chants and litanies.

My mother admitted that it wasn’t piety on their part. It was also something to do, a way to get the babies the fresh air of a walk and get themselves out of the house for a little while.

But that was the point. That was the grace. It was the Faith living, the Faith comforting, the Faith helping in the ordinariness of an afternoon.

I wish I had remembered the Luminous Mysteries: the Baptism of the Lord, the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration and the Institution of the Eucharist. It would have made those moments when I was swallowed up in modern medical technology a little more complete as I marked Hail Marys with my fingers.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.