Guinea Pigs and Consecrated Life

One of the prayers for today’s feast, The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, noted that it had been forty days since our celebration of the Lord’s nativity. For better or worse, my mind turned to the two little guinea pigs running noisily around their cage behind me. It has been forty-three days since my impulsive decision to become a small pet owner.

More than once, the decision to bring little Moses and curious Elijah into my life has seemed a foolish one, especially from a financial point of view. I have no income and these small creatures eat a lot! Yet, I cannot regret it. In a period, where I have so much I could do and so little that I must do, it can get more and more difficult to motivate myself even to get out of bed in a timely fashion. Nothing seems to matter in the grand scheme of things.

But those guinea pigs depend on me to refill their food and clean out their cage several times a day. (All that food they eat apparently goes right through them!) The silly little boars literally jump for joy when they hear the food or hay bag opening. It not only makes me laugh (Elijah has the air of being possessed when he jumps, or popcorns as the guinea pig websites refer to it), but it also reminds me to be grateful for the One who provides for all my needs.

Fortunately, God only appears as an enormous hand in art (except when he admonished King Belshazzar in the book of Daniel). The guinea pigs really are quite afraid when I reach for them, but that does not prevent them from eagerly taking food out of that same hand. So it is with us. I am reminded of Job’s wise rebuke to his wife in chapter 2, verse 10: “We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?”

When God extends his hand to us, it is always for good, but we run away or cower under a box like frightened rodents. Having discerned religious life twice and been through two novitiates, I have heard many vocation stories of priests and religious. Running away or hiding from God’s voice is a recurring theme. Thousands of Jonah’s hop onto ships headed for Tarshish before they find the courage to say Yes to God’s invitation, but whatever form the storm and whale may take, many do say Yes in the end (and carry saving grace to the Ninevites to whom they are sent). On today’s feast, the Church celebrates this Yes by which men and women consecrate their lives to God. When this consecration is fully lived, it brings joy and meaning even to the smallest and most insignificant tasks, even simply breathing in and out. I can never forget the holiness that emanated from a certain bed-ridden,102-year-old sister who could no longer do anything for herself in the days before her death.

Those of us who are not called to consecrated life are still called to dedicate our lives to holiness just as baby Jesus is dedicated today in the Temple. If we incorporate love of God into the motivation for all that we do, then everything becomes meaningful (whether or not it seems important). Taking care of my guinea pigs can be as much an act of devotion as praying a rosary.

My dad sometimes shares that what moves him most in meditating on the fourth joyful mystery is that Simeon and Anna were able to perceive the presence of the Lord in a poor little family walking through a crowded temple. The readings of today’s liturgy invite us to do the same. Apart from the Gospel, which narrates the story of a very small baby Jesus being brought to the temple for the completion of a sacred ritual, the rest of the readings have a markedly different tone:

The Lord goes forth like a hero,

like a warrior he stirs up his ardor;

He shouts out his battle cry,

against his enemies he shows his might. (Is 42:13, reading from midday prayer)

We are called to follow Christ our King into spiritual battle. Often that battle is won in very hidden, mundane, sometimes even passive, ways. If we make it a point to offer all our actions and all our passions to God, he can do so much. Five loaves and two fish freely given can feed a multitude. “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

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