One of the greatest privileges I have had as a Catholic Free Press correspondent has been learning about and sharing people’s stories. There is no more compelling evidence to me of God’s presence in our lives than the experiences of everyday people. They stir my heart, challenge my complacency and cause me to ponder how I can serve and love the Lord more deeply.
I am drawn to the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things like Brenda Seymour, who has just retired from her profession as an ESL teacher, and gone to Kenya to serve as a Maryknoll missionary for the next 3 1/2 years. I am around the same age, wishing to pull back from activity, tempted to make my circle smaller while she, driven by her call from God, is expanding hers by traveling halfway around the world to serve. Having spent time in Kenya years ago as a member of the Peace Corps, she is returning in anticipation of the exciting and likely, difficult journey ahead.
While we all must answer our own calls from the Lord, I could not help but marvel at her bravery, her faith, in accepting this change in her life. Am I as open to God’s call?
Then there is the priest I interviewed for a future story for the Legacy of Hope campaign. Father Paul O’Connell’s 60 years of service (and still going strong years after becoming a senior priest) moved me. There was no question that as long as his mind and body held out, he would serve. He reminded me of the many retired priests who are still viable; without their help, it would be difficult to maintain parish services. As Bishop Daniel Reilly once said, “You never retire from the priesthood … you’re always a priest until the end.”
That does not just apply to priests but to all disciples of God. I never stop being His hands and His feet just because I grow old. Even in sickness I am expected to be faithful. And I should want to be faithful because I love Him.
Then there is the nun who takes care of the 50 retired priests in our diocese. According to Father O’Connell, Sister Mary Ann Bartell has seemingly endless physical and spiritual energy as she reaches out and builds relationships with priests who are ill or dying. “Right through till the last breath, she has been with guys until they die,“ he said, “I don’t know how she does it.”
I think I know. It’s yet another story of love, for love makes all things possible. Her service challenges me to stay strong for those I love for I too, want to be with them when they pass over, no matter how difficult it gets.
And then there is a woman I have gotten to know from my parish. She is a lector who makes the Word of God come alive for me every time I am fortunate enough to hear her proclaim it. Because of stories I have shared about myself in this column, she chose to share hers with me. As a writer, this is the greatest privilege I could ever imagine.
My stories are about little things. I write them because I believe God means for me to do so. I often look at what I write and wonder how in the world they could be of any help. And then I meet someone who has read what I have written and is moved to share her personal story of faith with me. In that moment of connection, I know that somehow, I am being faithful to my call.
Wherever we are called to go, whatever we are meant to do, it requires faith and courage. God’s will is not always clear. But thanks to the stories of others who love Him and are doing their best to serve, I can draw inspiration, feel a deeper desire, and thus be more attuned to that still, small Voice in my soul, calling me.
Copyright 2020 Susan Bailey