If you had 48 hours to live what would you do? This was the question that I asked the Winnipeg Church of the Deaf Congregation today as I led the reflection on Kings 17: 8-24 Sunday morning at their worship service.Here is part of an edited text of what I said to this congregation which has welcomed me as a friend into their community for three plus decades:
In the reading a woman is preparing to die. She keeps doing what she is used to doing– cooking and caring for her son. What you do in life you often do in death. Both life and death are a gift. This woman’s service to both her son and Elijah is an act of kindness and generosity–potentially her last act. She is asked to give Bread. What does that remind us of? The body of Christ. She is being asked to give all that she has left just as Christ gave all to us.
She has nothing but God calls her to act in faith. He placed her in Elijah’s path and directed him to go to her. When God is invited into the ordinary, the extraordinary can unfold. The unexpected surprises us if we just let God use us. Both Elijah and this woman are models of trust and faith for us. Today’s theme is the Voices of Silence and we see how this woman–poor, widowed, without power, dying–is the choice of God to use to glorify God’s name.
Who else can be a model? Look at how Nyles Demarco wowed us all during Dancing with the Stars, especially with the Sounds of Silence performance. He tried his best–he was not a professional dancer and yet he succeeded in winning and bringing attention to what Deaf people can do, not what they cannot do. He did more than people thought possible. What a huge impact he had on the Deaf and non-Deaf world! Like Elijah, he is a bit of a prophet now. Like the old woman, we too can be life-changers…world-changers. She was very courageous.
In the reading from Kings, the poor widow is preparing to die. What is her reaction? It is one of acceptance, of taking care of her child and of a stranger with a generous heart and trust in God. My reaction to my illness and dying is similar. Why? My faith. I have been immersed in Ignation spirituality for several decades. As some of you know, I am a spiritual director for the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Who was this man? Born in 1491, he was the youngest son in a large family who lived in Loyola, Spain. He died July 31, 1556.
He was a Knight who was wounded in battle. He was a drinker who liked to flirt with women. He had a large ego and he was arrested for fighting while drunk. You can see he was not saintly to begin with–he was human, just like us. While he was recuperating from being injured by a cannonball during a battle that shattered and injured his legs, he was bored. His sneaky sister-in-law gave him a book about Jesus and a book about the Lives of the Saints to read while he got better. I saw this room in which he convalesced. It is now a chapel. I went to mass there twice. It is a very holy space. It was here that Ignatius first understood that he was living a life where he was often unhappy. The Spiritual Exercises uses two words that mean something different than they do in English. Consolation means a movement toward God. Desolation means a movement away from God. Ignatius began to notice that when he read romance novels and thought about women he did not feel satisfied. When he read the lives of the saints, he was filled with a longing to know God more. He seemed happier and more at peace.
As he got better, he decided that he would go to the holy land – Jerusalem. He soon left for Barcelona but he was too late to take the ship to Rome to get approval to go to Jerusalem. Instead he went to Montserrat . This is actually where I started my trip to Spain. It is about one hour and a half by train from Barcelona. Montserrat is a very beautiful place. I have never seen anything like it.
It has a church with a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus, called Our Lady of Montserrat. In her hand, is the world and in her other arm and on her lap is Jesus. Many pilgrims come here to touch the ball in her hand and the foot of the baby Jesus. St Ignatius was a pilgrim who did so. One night he took off his sword and his fancy clothes and laid them down in front of the statue. He decided that he would no longer be involved in war-making. He preferred to help the poor just like some of the people he had been reading about in the lives of the saints. He gave his clothes away to a beggar and dedicated his life to God.
After one month on the mountain, he went to Manresa which is very close to Montserrat. He stayed there for 11 months. He was now a changed man. He spent seven hours in prayer every day in a cave. He spent time with people who did not have a voice–women, the poor, and the sick. I was very lucky to stay at the Jesuit retreat house in Manresa which is built on the same site as the cave that Ignatius prayed in. I had access at any time to the cave as a guest at the centre. By a river close to the retreat house, Ignatius encountered God in a very special way. In this cave he prayed often and he began to understand in a new way how to pray. Later he would write a book that has become known as the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. This is something that I teach at my church with a group of other laypeople. We use a format that takes people through 30 weeks of prayer and reflection about their life. At the end of it most people are very different than when they started. This was true to for St Ignatius. In fact, when he taught it, he was arrested because people began to notice the people who followed his teachings behaved in kind and loving ways and helped people whose voices were attempted to be silenced.
We are all called to serve, like the widow, Elijah and Jesus. We all have a choice and some days it is a challenge. Like the widow I too am dying. I do not know why this is to happen but I hope that I can choose to serve and be gracious to those voices that have been silenced right up to the end. I pray that my final acts will be ones of Love and generosity.
What extraordinary work has God done through you in your ordinary life?
How can you empower those whose voices have been silenced?
Serving right to the end, Jesus, you showed us the remarkable way in which we can live and die. Help us to remain open to being your light in this world until we flicker and our flame is extinguished. Our ilves are in your hands and that is a very good place to be. Amen.