LITURGY AND LIFE
By Anne Strachan
God manifests through our kind thoughts and actions
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Due to issues with my back, this year I was unable to travel to St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask. I’ve been going to this monastery on the prairie since 2005.
It’s a pilgrimage. To leave home and immediately enter into a state of awareness, to be present to each and every moment, opens my heart. Going through splendid mountains to a magnificent prairie sky is — and hopefully will be again — a gift.
We were scheduled to go to Vancouver in September, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. In fact, I was filled with trepidation. Then, suddenly it hit me: think of this journey as a pilgrimage too! And so, I headed out with a budding sense of hope.
During our stay I walked the waterfront along Stanley Park. I gazed at mountains, boats in the harbour, tall buildings and a white moon in a blue sky. I collected seashells. Step by step, I noticed other walkers, joggers and people on bikes.
And I became aware of street people. Approaching Vancouver on E. Hastings Street, for a number of blocks it becomes apparent that this is where marginal people hang out — the poor, the mentally ill, drug addicts. Men and women push grocery carts full of all their belongings. Young people hover in doorways.
Near Stanley Park it’s the opposite. It’s very upscale — mostly tourists and business people attending conferences. Musician Phil Collins sings, “It’s just another day in paradise.” But as I walked around the waterfront toward Canada Place, I spotted an older man begging, who seemed agitated. He was holding a paper cup and had a sign asking for donations. I walked past.
But something drew me to him. I went back. Pulling a toonie from my purse, I placed it in his cup, and smiled. He looked me in the eye. It felt like Jesus himself was looking at me. Humbly, almost shyly, he said, “Thank you.” I paused, then nodded to this unkempt stranger and walked away.
The contrast between E. Hastings Street and W. Hastings (where we stayed) is heart-breaking. As Phil Collins sings in Another Day in Paradise: “She calls out to the man on the street . . . ‘Sir, can you help me? It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep’ . . . He walks on, doesn’t look back . . . He pretends he can’t hear her . . . He starts to whistle as he crosses the street . . . Seems embarrassed to be there . . .” We can all react in this way, uncertain what to do, or how to begin to communicate with such people.
It says in Exodus: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien . . . You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry . . . If you lend money to my people, to the poor one among you . . . you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbour’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it to that person before the sun goes down; for it may be their only clothing to use as cover . . . And if that person cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”
Mother Teresa says, “A smile must always be on our lips for any child to whom we offer help, for any to whom we give companionship or medicine. It would be very wrong to offer only our cures; we must offer to all our heart. Government agencies accomplish many things in the field of assistance. We must offer something else: Christ’s love.” And she continues, “All of us are but his instruments, who do our little bit and pass by.”
Paul says “. . . how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God . . .” This begins with turning from preoccupation with our own issues to interact with people: family, friends. And then we might widen our scope — “be not afraid” — to include marginal people. We might start by smiling at them. We serve a “living” God and a “true” God when we reach out to others.
Jesus says, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”
Do the cries of the poor reach God’s ears? Yes, through people like Mother Teresa, through charitable organizations like Covenant House that “opens doors for homeless youth,” and through us. God manifests through our ears, hands and hearts.
Hopefully, I’ll make it to St. Peter’s Abbey next year. In the meantime, I’ll think of my journeys — Vancouver, Saskatchewan, or simply heading to downtown Nakusp — as true, living, God-given pilgrimages.
Strachan is married with three grown children and lives in Nakusp, B.C. She is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., and a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.