Leaving Everything

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Tonight I went back to mass after a couple of months of being absent, minus Christmas Eve, due to health issues.  I had looked over the readings before going and thought that there might be a good message for me.  Mostly I was looking forward to returning to my community which I had missed immensely. God, of course, has a great sense of humour and I was deeply grateful to be back soon into the Liturgy of the Word.

I had been thinking about those fishermen who dropped their nets and followed Jesus.  They immediately left everything and followed Christ.  Jesus calls two more out of their boats and immediately, leaving family and coworkers, they too become followers.  Immediately is a key word in Mark’s Gospel.  He uses it at least 40 times to show that Jesus must be about his Father’s business–there will be no tarrying.  The same is true for those he calls.

The priest however caught my attention by going down a different road.  He had just lost his brother-in-law and on his mind was death and dying.  He spoke of the Ignatian contemplation where you imagine your own death. What if we were to die tonight or in ten minutes?  What would we want to do? Could we do it this week? I ran through scenarios in my mind as I have over these past three years.  I have worked on healing broken relationships.  I have tried to create memories with people I love. I am trying to keep my eyes more and more on Jesus.  I am still slowly putting my affairs in order. I feel more ready than ever to leave everything.

In the hospital, my doctor and I discussed the palliative care program which meant that if I signed papers that I would no longer be eligible for resuscitation. When I was in Emergency I declined.  After about a week in the hospital, the question came up again.  I told the doctor that I would think about it overnight after listening to her explain scenarios so that I understood what it all meant.  At some point, I said I had three things left to do before I could go which now seem silly.  I definitely was not leaving everything yet, as I picked up my net and wrapped my hands around it, digging my heels into the sand. Then I looked at that wonderful, compassionate doctor and heard myself say, It really does not matter what you or I think.  In the end, if God wants to take me, I am going.  If God doesn’t, then I am staying.  After a few moments of feeling bewildered that those words came out of me, a strong sense of peace came over me.  Bring the papers around tomorrow.  I’ll sign them.

Spending time contemplating our deaths changes us.  Those word of wisdom came from deep within me and yet they surprised me.  I think in that moment I knew I was ready to do immediately whatever my Saviour asks of me. I am sure this will fluctuate in the weeks and months ahead but I will hold those words in my heart and ponder them.

There will always be things to do on this crazy adventure of mine, but I am learning to walk away with freedom more and more.  Tonight at mass, the music and the homily assured me that I was indeed learning to let go more and more.  I also could feel as I have felt most of this day, a deep longing to follow where Jesus is leading me.  I do not want to be sidetracked or distracted. I want to pick up this cross that I have been given and follow immediately to wherever I am supposed to be going and do whatever I am being asked to by this Teacher.

The recessional song was Blessed Be Your Name, a reminder that we are asked to praise God whether we are blessed or not by earthly standards.  When the sun shines down or when the road is marked with suffering, we bless God’s name.  We are called in both situations to follow immediately, knowing that in leaving everything, we gain so much more.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What do you need to do to reconcile your life before you die?

What is it that you cannot leave immediately?

Prayer

Teacher, you bid me come and see.  May I leave everything to follow you immediately without regret or guilt.  Help me to reconcile my life so that I will be free to leave when that moment comes.  Amen.

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What We Do

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Most of us know the other Francis–of Assisi.  This is the man from whom the current pope chose his name, despite being a Jesuit.  St. Francis of Xavier was one of the first to join the Society of Jesus in Paris with St. Ignatius.  A relic of Xavier is heading across Canada right now, encouraging hundreds to come out and venerate his right arm that has not completely decomposed 465 years later.  I felt a deep call to attend part of the day and was blessed when a friend agreed to take me.

I had an appointment regarding my cast which ended up being taken off that morning and I wondered if I would be able to arrive in time for noon mass and veneration. The line ups were short at the clinic and my friend and I were able to breeze through everything plus grab a bite to eat before heading downtown to the Cathedral. Miraculously, if we believe in small wonders, we found a parking spot right in front of the wheelchair accessible door.  I was greeted by a friend who knew me who I had not seen in some time.  We hugged and spoke briefly before I entered the sanctuary.  The queue was short and so without even thinking I rolled up to the relic on my scooter.  I am unsure exactly when they had closed the veneration, but they let me venerate it anyway. They were all very kind in doing so.  My friend was unable to do so but she stood there looking at it, while I prayed.  We found accessible seats right at the front of the church.  The procession came right by us and the archbishop nodded and said good morning to me.

The mass was beautiful, my first since Christmas Eve.  I loved every second of the celebration, so grateful to be able to attend.  The Eucharist was brought directly to me. I was able to be present in a focused way. Despite this not being my own parish, I knew I was home and welcome at the table.

This first class relic had brought a full house to see it.  As I listened to the archbishop speak about the relic, its purpose, the Jesuits, healing, vocation, and so many sub-themes, I had to think that what we do in life has meaning.  Here was a man who had baptized thousands of people and healed many more, including raising someone from the dead.  The arm was brought to Canada in hopes of converting people back to the faith, to have people, especially the youth, consider their own missionary calling in light of Xavier’s, and to heal people.  As I read this, each of the purposes of this relic’s tour touched my own heart.   I am in need of drawing ever closer to Christ as I come near my last breath.  I ask myself often how best to serve my Creator in the time I have left.  I am well aware of how much healing I must yet experience.  Then, of course,  a miracle cure is on many minds and hearts for me.

What I do with the remainder of my life is important to me.  I struggle to rise above the weariness currently clinging to me.   Today I slept half the day away and still hope to be in bed by midnight.  I rested well and know that is what I need to do. Each day I try to reach out to someone to encourage them or bring a splash of joy if I can. I am hoping that once my ankle is healed more completely that I will have more energy.

One of the attractions for me to Xavier is that he never made it to the place he wanted to serve.  He died within sight of China.  We humans have our own agendas.  God has the master plan though.  Almost five centuries later, Xavier still lives on converting, evangelizing, affirming, encouraging, and healing.  He is still capable of reaching hearts which is what God perhaps wanted him to do.  We do not see the bigger design.  We must merely trust that God is at work.  I may not do all that I had hoped with my life, but I have done enough.  I know that God will somehow use that in ways unbeknownst to me on this side of that thin veil.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Have you ever seen the relic of a saint before?  How has it effected  you?

What is it that you do that serves the Divine’s purpose?

Prayer

Creator, may I serve you in all I do, with a pure heart and a joy that is infectious. May people look at me and see you at work within me.  Amen.

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Laughter in the Surrealness

 

IMG_1380.JPG I have talked briefly about my Circle of Support here before. I hand-chose six people from various parts of my life to help guide me in decision-making around end-of-life matters.  This includes issues about tangible support from friends, health concerns, and funeral planning.  It also includes calling me on my stuff–those things that prevent me from living in freedom right now–such as setting better boundaries, letting go of control, and clarifying my values. They are precious to me.

You would think such a group might feel sad and depressed with this task but that is not often the case.  Last night as we assessed the session, someone remarked about the amount of laughter in the room despite the reason for gathering. He was correct–there was a jovial mood in the room for a group of people who were coming together to help me die well.  I was the last to report in and jokingly said that I knew I was respected even though they were laughing at me.  Some hurried to assure me it was with me but we all guffawed at the truth that they do indeed laugh at me sometimes. I can take it though and am often the first to notice my compulsions.

Many aspects of the group make me gobsmacked.  The Circle is really more than I had imagined. Perhaps it is that we break bread of some kind together–it helps to have someone who owns a bakery in the group.  Maybe it is that I have such amazing people in my life and it delights me to see friendships forming. The love that is poured out my way is pure gift.  The collective wisdom is powerful at times.  As in today’s First Reading of 1 Samuel 3, I know that each of these people have responded to the Lord’s strange call with a hearty Here I am! and none of us would know the outcome of where this process would lead. The other words that Samuel says are Speak, for your servant is listening. The gift of compassionate listening is precious.  I always believe I am heard which encourages me to be vulnerable.  The questions that are directed to me are helpful in both discernment and action-taking.

Last night opened and closed with a fabulous feast.  Certainly the Epiphany cake was a symbol of how Christ was manifested to us.  As the little ceramic angel was discovered within one of our pieces, an earthly king for the evening was crowned.  The New-born King has arrived and the crown of thorns Jesus will wear at the end of his life is not how folks from that time expected the adventure to end. Life and death are so intricately linked.  Some days this illness that is overtaking my body is surreal to all of us.  If someone were to walk into the circle it might be hard to guess who among us has cancer.  The laughter and countenance of our faces are not cast down. This could be any group of dear friends meeting in some ways.

In today’s Gospel, Peter’s mother-in-law is sick and the community makes Jesus aware of this.  He heals her and she gets up to serve. I think that this small community offers up many prayers on my behalf as they see what I struggle with and what I need. I am grateful for this because somehow I continue to find the strength to serve in smaller ways than before such as writing this blog.  When I formed the circle, my desire was to wrap community around me. That is what I see in the Gospel today.  When we are sick, we need one another.

No matter how absurd the adventure becomes or how surreal it remains, laughter is always a good outcome. I can only be grateful for the many blessings that have come out of this circle of friends.  May each of them know God’s blessings as well.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How do you make major decisions in your life?

Can laughter and sorrow co-exist?

Prayer

Laughing-God, God of Joy, God of Good-Natured Fun, you are with us even in the darkness and Mystery that scare us.  Help me to search you out during these times.  Teach me to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Show me how to laugh at myself when I get too serious about my situation.  I trust in you. Amen.

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Observing Stars

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Stars come in all shapes and sizes. How many of us have a memory of sitting around a campfire and looking up to see millions of stars that we would never see in the city?  I am transfixed often at the beauty of our cosmos, looking heavenward to witness this breathtaking sight.  In Kenya was the first time I saw the Southern Cross.  I saw it again in South Africa. In Mexico one year, for several nights in a row I would find a beach chair and settle in to listen to the ocean waves crash the shore and watch the stars glisten.  Summers spent in the backwoods with good friends where we would relish the stillness of the universe are some of the memories of the magnificence of stars.

Sometimes we can follow the Light in complete and utter darkness, not knowing how it will change us.  That is what Epiphany is ultimately about–seeking Christ and deciding to, as the Spiritual Exercises say, stand under his standard.  Herod was an earthly leader who the Magi chose to reject for the glory they found in the stable.  The humble Babe had been worth the journey.  The Magi would never be the same again and selected a new way home in disobedience to the earthly King. This New-Born King would be their new leader and instigated them to perform an act of rebellion to the one who held the reigns of power.  The joy of the encounter that they felt with where the star had led them was perhaps something that they had never experienced.  One might even say they were star-struck at the sight of this Divine Child.

The First Reading from Isaiah 60 reminds us that our Light has come and it is our turn to rise. Despite the darkness that may cover the earth, we have a Lord who will rise and shine Divine Glory upon us. Then as Scripture says, we shall see and be radiant and our hearts will rejoice.  Our task after following the star and encountering the Divine is not to return to our old alleges and ways.  We must find new paths and rearrange our values.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When have you sought the Holy and been transformed?

Have you ever had to walk away from an earthly leader to follow Christ the King? At what cost?

Prayer

New-Born King, help me to stand under your standard, knowing that I will never be the same again. May I keep my eyes on the star that leads me to you. May my heart be overwhelmed with joy that spills out in radiance to all who meet me.  Amen.

 

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Anything Good?

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What do we do when we encounter people who are different than us?  People have different skin colours, beliefs, values, and upbringings.  They live in different parts of the city, country or world than us.  Sometimes a couple of questions into a conversation we start to form judgments about the person with whom we are talking–what do you do/where do you work, where did you grow up–and we miss the opportunity for seeing God standing in front of us.

Today’s Gospel from John 1 has Nathanael ask a pointed question when told the Messiah is from a certain place: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip challenges him to come and see.  Nathanael is converted quite quickly when he meets Jesus but how many of us jump to conclusions?  Can anything good come out of the North End? Can any politician be honest?  Can that tattooed kid over there have a glimmer of goodness within? I have seen lots of goodness come from the North End.  I do know seemingly honest politicians. That tattooed kid is kind.

Nathanael believed because Jesus told him he saw him sitting under a fig tree.  We want to encounter miracles before we put away our judgments and prejudices.  What if instead we sought God in each person we met and hoped to learn some lesson to make us a better person?  What if we tried to crawl inside the other’s skin for a brief moment to gain insight? Would we recognize the Divine any faster if we looked past our preconceived ideas? Today’s Gospel is an invitation to catch our own limited vision and try to be more inclusive.  I am going to try this out as much as I can this week as we begin a New Year.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How often do you judge other people throughout the course of the day?

What would happen if you gave people the benefit of the doubt and looked for the good?

Prayer

You who came from the wrong side understand when people judge us.  Help me to seek the good in each person I meet and keep an open mind.  May I listen with a compassion heart and an open mind to see what gift I may receive from this reflection of you.  Amen.

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A Promise is a Promise

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Both Feast days of yesterday and today are about promises of God and how we react to them.  Yesterday, on the Feast of the Holy Family we see Mary and Joseph presenting the Christ-child at the temple.  Simeon and Anna both have been waiting for this Child, their Redeemer.  They have waited a long time but once the promise is delivered, they are filled with joy and praise. Simeon knows he can now die in peace with the fulfillment of this promise. Everyone can leave and go about their lives.

In today’s Gospel, on the Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, the shepherds hurriedly arrive in Bethlehem and find the Child in the manger.  They share what has been revealed to them by the angels.  The shepherds left after paying homage, praising God at the wonders they has witnessed.  The promise of finding such an Infant had been true.  Mary and Joseph, meanwhile, still pondering their own promises by angels of God, treasured all these things that the shepherds said while probably desperately trying to understand them.

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of discovering the mass in my liver. The promise of God had come months prior – to pray for courage and that the protection of God was always there.  I held these words in my heart and treasured them without fulling understanding the meaning until nine months later.  Within weeks the diagnosis came and the surgeon was clear from the beginning: I would not survive.  I have outlived the original prognosis by almost one year.  My time though is coming.  I am unsure of how much of this New Year I will see and despite great sadness at saying goodbye to my wonderful life here, I am ready to greet my Beloved when I am called Home.  I trust in the promises I have been given.

God’s ways are not our ways and yet if we try to follow them, if we do not give up hope, if we trust the inconceivable could happen, then we, like Simeon, Anna, and the shepherds, might find ourselves praising God from the sheer wonder of a promise kept.  This requires waiting and watching carefully.  Patience is needed.  Looking for God in all things includes recognizing him as an infant in obscure places.  Will  you keep watch?

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When has God made a promise to you?

How have you waited?

Prayer

God of Promises, keep us watchful in stables, temples, fields and deserts.  You appear to us in obscure places and we might miss you but you promise to be always with us, until the very end.  That is the best promise of all.  Amen.

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Anna’s Steadfastness

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Can you imagine waiting with great anticipation for most of your life for an event to unfold, never knowing how or  when it would happen?  The uncertainty of who would even be the source of all your longing made the task almost a mission impossible.  That takes a tremendous amount of courage and steadfastness.  The hope that is needed is profound.  Many would walk away after several months or years, but not Anna.  Anna never left the temple, worshiping there around the clock with prayer and fasting.

How would she have felt when she realized that the Holy Family had just entered the temple?  The child who was to bring about the redemption of Jerusalem was finally here and she lifted her voice in praise to God.  Did Anna remain in the temple for long afterwards, giving thanks for this miracle and marveling that the dream had come true?  Or did she slip silently into the streets after all those decades of waiting, to eventually tell everyone her story?

What do we do when we are asked to wait for something that will change our lives profoundly? Anna’s fidelity to her vocation is outstanding.  Would I have been able to find the fortitude to remain in readiness to receive the Redeemer? Some days on this grand adventure of mine, I cannot even pray, let alone fast.  I often am plagued by an imposter syndrome.  The fatigue is too much.  My weariness causes me to lose sight of my Beloved and yet when I find the energy, I am always filled with deep joy to return more fully. Many days I do not feel like a faith-filled Anna but she holds a light onto my path for which I am grateful when the darkness threatens.  She assures me that the receiving the Redeemer is worth the struggle and the wait.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What are you being asked to wait for?

How do you think you will recognize its arrival?

Prayer

Redeemer, we await you in our lives.  We long for your coming.  May we be as steadfast as Anna in our readiness to receive you.  Amen.

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