Man sitting on Fonteno - Riva di Solto Big Bench, Lombardy, Italy. Adobe Stock

Striking a Healthy Balance

Breaking away from routine on a Big Bench can give a new perspective

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The words “be aware but don’t despair” popped into my head several months ago as I was putting together the headlines for my daily Catholic radio program. The expression hit me at the time when several challenging stories were being released from Rome, along with tragic reports of the wars raging on in various parts of the world, depressing articles on the economy in the United States, and a whole host of other negative news items that would make even the most hardened person want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over his head.

The phrase impacted me so strongly that I wrote a blog on it, hoping to inspire followers with creative ideas on how to keep the joy of the Lord in our hearts while not sticking our heads in the sand. One of my suggestions was based on a unique effort that began in Northern Italy. It’s called the Big Bench Project, and it was started by an American couple who moved to the Piedmont region in the northwest part of Italy. They were so inspired by the natural beauty of the surrounding area that they decided more folks who visit need to stop and smell the roses, feel like children again and see Italy from a bright Big Bench off the beaten path.

My husband, Deacon Dom, and I visit Italy often and find the big benches to be helpful when it comes to trying to keep a positive outlook, as well as slowing ourselves down during jam-packed tours. It’s become a must-do item to our Italian itineraries. In the blog, I shared photos from our Big Bench experiences, reminding readers that Jesus calls us to be open and vulnerable like little children to enter his kingdom, and that breaking away from normal routines to get a different perspective is a healthy way to handle all that life is throwing at us in these interesting times.

It was encouraging to see the blog receive much attention and positive feedback. The benches are so large that you feel like a little child when sitting on them. The joyful response also made Deacon Dom and me think more deeply about the importance of sharing personal experiences more often and the willingness to be vulnerable in front of others. As deacon couples, we’re often viewed as role models. Parishioners look to us as examples of how to grow in their relationship with God, how to have healthy marriages and families, and how to balance everything that’s being thrown at all of us in this upside-down world of ours.

Sometimes, we might limit ourselves based on what we think the image of a deacon couple should look like. If so, it might be time to revisit the words of Pope St. Paul VI: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, No. 41).

How are we witnessing to the ways we find a healthy balance in our own lives? How many stories or images of that amazing day at the beach, the afternoon at an amusement park with children or grandchildren, and/or that Big Bench experience do we share in homilies, after Mass or in one-on-one conversations?

Life is hardly perfect. It can be very hard. We live in a fallen world that seems to get crazier by the minute. As deacon couples witnessing the way, letting our hair down and approaching life with the open heart of a child, as Our Lord teaches, is not just a mere suggestion. It is a must: “At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said: ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said ‘Amen, I say to you unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Mt 18:1-3).

TERESA TOMEO is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95). She is married to Deacon Dom Pastore, an ordained deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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