We are all familiar with the term, “Palanca” and its importance on a “Weekend.” I have come to realize that Palanca is not an event occurring a few times a year—but rather a way of being, a lifestyle that can be experienced or offered anytime, anywhere and for any length of time. Sometimes in comes in spurts and sometimes it is dormant for years until circumstances align and we are called to respond and model the self-emptying love of Jesus. Sometimes, we are the one offering Palanca and at other times we are the recipients of the power of God’s love and sacrifice in action. In rare circumstances, the two are happening simultaneously.
I have spent the last four years being responsible for an elderly aunt. The past year has been a challenge, primarily due to the fact that my aunt lived in NJ. I could always count on a minimum 90-minute ride (one way) provided there was no traffic. Typically, it could be two hours or more. During these past 15 months, my aunt’s needs were becoming more obvious and time consuming. The energy I was expending was not being replaced in equal amounts. My anxiety was curtailed by a friend who lived 6 miles away from my aunt. Initially, I could count on her to check in with my aunt and do food shopping for her.
As my aunt’s health deteriorated, my friend offered me to stay at her apartment instead of commuting back and forth from New York to New Jersey. She listened to my frustration and kept me well fed. Finally, in the midst of what was to be the beginning of the end for my aunt, my friend took charge as I was sick with fever, bronchitis and sinusitis, unable to drive from Queens. In a dramatic turn of events, police had to break down my aunt’s front door in order for the paramedics to take her to the hospital. My friend followed the ambulance to the hospital and, once in the Emergency Room, asked the doctor to call me.
In the meantime, the dam broke as I sobbed unconsolably for an hour. My helplessness reached its peak. I had given everything I had in me to be in service to my aunt and at that moment I was spent. At the same time, God provided me with a generous, competent, funny and, at times, irreverent angel in the person of Mari-Celeste Massaro. Mari-Celeste had recently served as caregiver to a friend who had recently died and now, she was sacrificing for me. Despite her grief, she saw me through my agony. It dawned on me that this was Palanca and it was perpetual. Palanca is not about a Weekend of simple sacrifices— it’s about responding to the messiness of life and death, time and time again over the course of a lifetime.
As we celebrate Christmas, the Incarnation of our God, let us remember that God is with us in the messiness and confusion of life. Jesus chose perpetual Palanca from his birth in a stable to his death on a cross and everything in between.