by Thom Chartier, Oblate of St. Scholastica Monastery
Ezekiel 37: 12-14
Romans 8: 8-11
John 8: 1-11
The story I’m about to relate I did not comprehend until now, because my eyes did not see, my ears did not understand; I wasn’t listening with the ear of my heart.
In our February meeting, a fellow Oblate made a statement, “We tend to live an accelerated life.” That phrase, ‘accelerated life’, brought back a most precious memory of an encounter with a 12-year-old girl in 1988. At that time, I was a pediatric social worker with St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, and ‘Amanda’ and I had gotten to know each other. She had an inoperable brain tumor that would lead to her death, and she knew that. Over the course of that year, she was hospitalized for various reasons: some new behavior, a new symptom, a medication adjustment, and so on.
It was during one of those hospitalizations that I came to her room on my rounds. I knocked and identified myself, saying, “Good morning, Amanda.” At this point in her illness, she was blind. In those days you could still open the window several inches, and she was sitting on the edge of the bed facing the window, enjoying the cool autumn breeze. She invited me to sit next to her. I did. Taking my hand, she asked me to describe what it looked like outside.
I told her the trees were full of color: yellow, red, and pops of green. There were rolling whitecaps on Lake Superior churning up different shades of brown and mixing with the blue waters of the lake. The clouds were like untamed whiskers dancing across the soft blue sky. It was a most beautiful day. Amanda reached up her little hand and touched my cheek. She gently wiped away my tears, and said, “Oh, Thom, this is what I’m going to miss the most! It will be okay.” Not long afterward, Amanda died.
As I thought about the Gospel reading today and reminisce about that special encounter with Amanda, I think God was using her, reminding me to look at what’s before me – not just the physical world but also the emotional and spiritual encounters that we are blessed with each day. As Louie Armstrong sang, “What a wonderful world!”
In the first reading for this Sunday, God asks us to open ourselves to the future and to the great promise of a better life He is planning for us.
In the second reading, St. Paul declares, “I have been grasped by Christ.” Therefore, we should look ahead to living with Christ and for Christ.
Although I have often thought about Amanda and our brief time together, I never really understood what happened then. I now believe that God was telling me through Amanda to open myself, behold the future, and accept the better life God promises if I live with Christ and for Christ.
In my wife’s faith tradition of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Sunday before ‘Great Lent’ is Forgiveness Sunday. At the close of the liturgy, each parishioner turns to those nearby and says, “Please forgive me.” The reply is, “As God forgives, I forgive you.” In that spirit tonight, with a repentant heart I say, “If I have offended any one of you this past year, please forgive me as God forgives.”
Go and sin no more.
I would like to close this reflection with an evening prayer by John Henry Newman (1801-1890), which I dedicate to Amanda.
Listen to this, and remember Amanda in your prayers.