Lisa Rustici knows from recent experience the difficulty of getting into the holiday spirit while contending with the death of a loved one, a job loss or divorce.
"A lot of people don’t really have, quote, the perfect Christmas scenario that we always picture — the happy family, the very spiritual Christmas where they feel close to God," Rustici said, noting that she’s still grieving for a close friend who died of cancer this past summer.
"You question your faith. My prayer life was on shaky ground — you’re angry with God, angry with life," added Rustici, who serves as sacramental-preparation and adult-education coordinator for Christ the Redeemer Parish in Elmira.
Rustici made holiday blues the focus of an annual women’s evening of reflection titled "Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!" It took place Dec. 6 in the hall of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, drawing 43 women seeking to take some positive steps forward.
"That goes to show you that everybody’s going through something. People are having real issues," Rustici said of the strong turnout.
The evening started with dinner and was followed by a combination of prayers, talks and meditation. Rustici used the Joyce Rupp book Praying Our Goodbyes as a basis for discussing major goodbyes related to such issues as divorce and death, as well as what Rustici termed "some goodbyes that are not so glaring": letting go of old ideas and old habits; experiencing empty-nest syndrome; and bidding goodbye to youth. The book also contains suggested prayers for helping to say those goodbyes.
"It was kind of a good cleansing, to just know other people are going through the same thing. Sometimes you feel ‘woe is me’ and this kind of brings everybody together," said Tere McCahill, a Christ the Redeemer parishioner who was among the attendees.
Rustici said she sought to send participants away with a positive message for the new year, emphasizing that spirituality can actually deepen as a result of tough times: "These are the things that help us to grow and become better people."
The Dec. 6 event was a continuation of an annual series of women’s reflection nights that Rustici has offered for several years during Advent and Lent. Begun for Our Lady of Lourdes, the get-togethers have come to also include Christ the Redeemer’s other member churches, St. Casimir and St. Charles Borromeo.
"We have people from other parishes, and people who are not Catholic. There’s not much else like it in the (Elmira) area," McCahill added. Meanwhile, Rustici noted that 12 participants at the Dec. 6 gathering were newcomers.
Rustici has been involved in parish ministry for nearly 20 years. Her other adult-education offerings have included a spiritual book club for women; a support group for women in mid-life; and a discussion group for mothers and fathers raising teenagers. In addition to specific programs, Rustici was the creative force behind a labyrinth that opened on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in 2004. The labyrinth is a spiral-designed footpath available to the general public for meditation and reflection.
Rustici said she tries to create programs based on people’s needs at a given point in time, adding that her next planned activity will be for married couples.
"My real joy is just making people think. I think that’s what’s kept me here, using my creativity for all these things. How many people go to their job and get real spiritual nourishment from it? It’s a real win-win," she remarked.