My heart is all over the place. It goes from celebrating my new ministry and home with utter joy, to missing my Sisters and students in Pomona, to mourning over lives lost in catastrophe and violence. Individuals and entire countries settle in my being wherever they can find room, and usually without warning. Sometimes it hurts; sometimes it feels like I could never be happier. As I get ready to go to the Holy Land where Jesus spent His very short time on earth, I wonder if He sometimes felt the same. I bet Jesus’s ministry brought Him great joy, especially when He could see how people’s lives were changed once He healed their spiritual or physical ills. Jesus had very good friends and people He loved that I’m sure He was sad He couldn’t always spend time with. And I’m sure first-century Palestine was no stranger to natural disasters or violence either. So what did He do with all that emotion? Sometimes He wept, like when His friend Lazarus died. Sometimes He celebrated, like when He ate and drank with the disciples. One thing I noticed is consistent, though: Jesus prayed. Sometimes He prayed alone, sometimes He prayed with others, but He always prayed.
Both of my new ministries are extremely life-giving for me. My main ministry is what we call “vocation ministry”. It involves a lot of travel. I have plans to attend a lot of different youth and young adult events, but it also includes creating my own events and putting together prayer services or meaningful experiences for those who wish to grow in their relationship with God. I’ve already gotten to facilitate a Come and See weekend where three women who are interested in religious life come to pray and visit with our Sisters in Canada. I will be going to a day of discernment at Franciscan University this week to share about our Felician community with college students who may feel called to discern religious life. In the meantime, I’m also working on a camping retreat to be held next February with women between the ages of 18 to 35. It’s the best kind of busy I’ve ever been. Every day is different and every assignment that comes my way is like a Christmas present I can’t wait to unwrap. I wonder if Jesus felt the same as He moved around from place to place, responding to His Father’s love and purpose for Him. I can only imagine that Jesus loved His ministry, and so must be sharing that joy with me as I continue to respond as best I can to God’s love and purpose for my life.
Not only do I get to work on all these fun projects, but I also spend time at an after-school program in a neighborhood that struggles with poverty and substance abuse. So far I’ve been helping the kindergarten and first graders with their homework. I must admit, I was terrified when I initially received this assignment. I thought, “No way, Jesus, You’ve got to be kidding me. I work with high school kids. This is not my crowd.” He didn’t say anything of course, He just let me go in there all pale and petrified. Except, I discovered, He gave me the grace to do exactly what I thought I could never do: work with 5- and 6-year-olds. Now, don’t let me fool you into thinking they’re angels. No, no, they punch each other and run around when you ask them to sit down and quickly find ways to get out of doing their homework; BUT they are so darn lovable, and they really just want to be loved. I wish I could give each of them the one-on-one attention they deserve, but I do my best to give them attention however and whenever I can. I got called “mommy” on the first day, and now I proudly claim them all as my babies. Is this how Jesus felt about the “little ones”, the ones who probably fought for His attention, wanting to sit on His lap or curl up under His arm? No wonder He said the kingdom was made up of children and those who were like them. They’re so full of love! Their affection is so pure and so sincere, I can see why He calls us to be like them.
Enjoying my ministries as much as I do does not mean that the people I love in California have been replaced. Enjoying my new home and ministry almost makes me miss them even more, as I wish I could share all this new life and excitement with them. It helps that my students and friends still keep in touch with me, whether through Instagram, texts, or letters, but I miss them even then. I can say, however, that in a way all my Californians are still with me. I couldn’t love the kids I work with now as well as I do if I hadn’t learned such love during my time in Pomona. I’m able to be stern when I have to (which with 5- and 6-year-olds means reminding them to say “please” and “thank you”) while knowing that I do so because I know they are capable of greatness and understanding human dignity. I am also able to collaborate and share ideas with leaders and colleagues now because I had so many wonderful mentors, co-workers, and friends in California. Perhaps as Jesus travelled from home to home He felt a tinge of sadness too, not knowing when or if He’d see certain friends or families again. As each family and community welcomed Him, He was probably reminded of all those who had lovingly done the same in years past. Maybe He wondered how they were doing, maybe He asked about them from time to time. Either way, I bet He never forgot about any of them.
With this latest act of domestic terrorism, I can’t help but think of all the family members and friends whose lives were forever changed in just one night. Unless we have a family member or friend suffering with a life-threatening illness, most of us don’t wake up and think, “This might be the last time I see them.” When tragedy like this happens, I am reminded of how unpredictable life is, and of how deeply painful loss can be. I can’t say I know what any of the families and friends who lost loved ones on October 1st are going through, but I do have a certain sense of what sudden loss feels like. In my own family, we experienced a sudden loss of sorts without any kind of warning. It shocked all of us, and the lives of those involved were changed forever in an instant. We continue to grieve, even in the midst of hope, because nothing has been the same ever since, and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s made some of us question our very worth, wondering how God could let something like this happen. I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt when He cried out and asked why God had abandoned Him. I think most of us have asked that of God for some reason or another: “God, why have You abandoned me?” In other words, “Where were You when I needed You? Why didn’t You do something to keep this from happening?” It feels like a crucifixion, like the world has destroyed us and we’ve been left to suffer unbearable pain. Jesus experience this in His very body as He suffered from an act of terrible violence. He is no stranger to our pain, physically or emotionally.
Prayer, that constant thread woven through Jesus’s life, held everything together. Prayer kept Him connected to His Father. It reminded Him Who to thank for His great joy; it strengthened His relationships; and it enabled Him to endure the darkness for the sake of the light. When I find myself between laughter and mourning, Jesus’s fidelity to prayer reminds me that this is what holds all things together. There’s a little song a priest from Africa once taught me. The words and tune are simple, which makes it all the more memorable:
Prayer is the key
Prayer is the key
Prayer is the master key
Jesus started with prayer
And ended with prayer
Prayer is the master key
Prayer can open any door. It can open the door to a deeper sense of gratitude, a call to action, to healing and forgiveness. What is it you’re looking for in life right now? Because I can guarantee you it’s behind one of those doors, and you’ve already been given the key.
Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay