Yesterday I had one of those days – a genuine, bonafide ‘earthen vessel’ day. During Mass, as I prepared the altar for the Presider, I shuffled around in my squeakiest shoes ever, trying to minimize the noise by feebly attempting to move without actually walking, an awkward effort that likely drew even more attention to my noisily shod feet. In the process I unfolded the corporal upside down, clanged the chalices against one another, and none too soon shuffled meekly (and loudly) back to my seat.
That was just the beginning. In the afternoon I forgot an important meeting. Then I was nearly late to something else and arrived breathless and scattered. Like I said, it was a genuine, bonafide earthen vessel day. Not only did I feel my fragility, it was painfully apparent to everyone around me.
Probably every day contains some moment(s) like these, but most days don’t contain so many. A day like yesterday leaves me shaking my head with gratitude and wonder that God entrusts such treasures to us frail humans who so often shuffle around off kilter and out of balance and trampling on gems and jewels on every side. We say the wrong thing, we make the wrong move, we unknowingly injure despite good intentions, we turn things upside down, we make a big giant mess while wearing loud, squeaky shoes.
St. Benedict recognized our human frailty and our tendency to mess things up. He counsels us to “support with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior.” Sometimes this support means to challenge a Sister to grow beyond her weakness. Sometimes it means to support with patient love a weakness that cannot be changed. At all times we are to remember both our need for mercy and our responsibility to be merciful.
Although we live amidst overflowing treasures, we are earthen vessels – quick to break things around us, and easily shattered ourselves. We are always in need of the love and support of community and the tender mercy of God, that in all things God may be glorified. Even – and especially – on an earthen vessel day.
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. II Cor. 4:7
Postscript: As I was writing this post this morning I stopped to pray mid-morning prayer at my desk in the Retreat Center office. The scripture reading was from Isaiah 53: “He was…a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity…yet it was our infirmaties thet he bore, our sufferings that he endured….” Our Lord knows our weakness. And may we bear up one another as He has borne us in His mercy.