Thursday, 19 March 2015

St. Joseph's Day - Life Given and Received

It's St. Joseph's Day. A special day. I've said it before - I'll say it again - St. Joseph's Day reminds me of what was and what is. It's part of who I was, who I am, and who I am still becoming.  It's about Love. Community. Haiti. Transformation. Longing. God. 

Kenscoff outside our retreat house, overlooking the valley ...  for early morning meditation I sat on the rocks overlooking the mountains as the sun rose and flooded the valley with light.  Poinsettias flourished along the opposite ridge, so bright, bright red in season. If I'd realized the two shiny bright things in a crevice of the rock I sat on might have belonged to a tarantula or a scorpion, I probably would have meditated a little? less peacefully.

St. Joseph - a loving Dad

My heart feels open and it hurts. That's a good thing, right? It means my heart is flesh.

This morning, I attended Mass at Eglise Saint-Joachim in Pointe-Claire as I often do on a Thursday morning. I sat, four pews from the front, and tears began to flow. I cried softly off and on throughout the Mass, surprised but willing to learn from the tears. 

44 years ago today, I was professed in first vows in the Society of St. Margaret, and 41 years ago I made my profession in Life Vows. The tears began as, "I'm sorry." Sorry, I think, that I didn't keep my vows. Couldn't. I know I couldn't stay. I meant my vows when I took them. But there was so much hidden in my depths that I was unaware of. I wondered briefly who I would/might have become if I'd tried to return to the convent after my breakdown/break-through in 1975. I might have returned to Haiti - and I might have burned myself out trying and trying - forgetting that the world has already been saved. 

It doesn't matter in a way what might have been if I could have stayed in community. I remember Aslan telling Lucy in, I think, The Voyage of the Dawntreader that we are never told what might have been. 

Instead, I returned to my Montreal home in 1983, completed my degree ... then through in theology to ordination. and so, we come to today...

When the priest arrived this morning, he placed a statue of St. Joseph on a white stand at the left corner of the altar. Then he disappeared, returned and put a bronze? bowl at the base of the stand. Incense rose, wafting over Joseph - ahh - the scent!  Whoever invented incense, thank you! Joy! And he placed a large, red votive candle in front of St. Joseph. Through Mass, I watched the light from one of the tall stained glass windows shining - a blue strip and a yellow small round area. By the time we got to communion, the sun had shifted north enough that the blue light shone up the stand and the base of Joseph's statue, and the yellow shone on Joseph's head. Awe.

At the start of the Mass, the youngish priest, Dominic Richer, spoke briefly of St. Joseph, telling us he is the patron saint of "l'intériorité" - the interior life, of prayer. (In addition to being the patron saint of Canada by the way). In the homily, he spoke of St. Joseph being the first to hold Jesus after his birth. (I hadn't thought of that, but somebody had to take him when he landed.) He suggested we welcome Jesus from Joseph - both the symbol of infant into our hearts and also in communion - as if it were Joseph giving us communion. 

The biggest thing was: Joseph put "la foi avant la loi." It's more poetic in French :-) - He put faith before the law. Putting aside arguments about facts and truths expressed poetically in myth in the birth narratives - Mary would have been stoned to death if Joseph had not chosen to put faith before the law and to welcome her. 

I choose to put faith before law. I choose to accept the wonder and struggles, prayer, joy, depression, growing, talents unknown and developed... my time at SSM, my Sisters whom I loved and love. My love for my Sisters lives on - including for so many who have gone on to the other side of somewhere. I wore my Associates' cross this morning. I still feel, and often touch, a slight indentation where my ring lived on my right 'wedding' finger. Silver for first profession; gold for life. Those years formed the person I have become. 

We can't take love away. Who wants to? Love is forever.  I could deny the impact of the religious life and SSM on who I have become. To do so would be life-denying. So, I give thanks. I feel sadness as well as joy. I miss something precious. I reclaim what was and is precious. I thank God.

Others don't have to understand. I need to. To let go in ways that might hold me back; to own and cherish the gifts of the religious life - past into present.  

I recently went through thousands of my Dad's slides, tossing the majority and getting others put on CDs. I'm sharing some of the ones Dad took while I was a Sister ...  

21st birthday. October 31st, 1967, four days before leaving for the convent.
Early days: first trip home to Montreal 1968 - holding my first cat, Min(erva). He was a boy, but answered to Minou when he 'followed' me home ;-) in my arms in 1954 and I wasn't, at 8, terribly knowledgeable about sex.

With Min again. He wasn't a cuddly cat, but suffered a hug.

After Min died and Mum and Dad were visiting Duxbury they got a kitten - Pip - at a local animal shelter.
Pip in a rare quiet moment. Sister Eugenie thought he was the cat's miaou. 

Not sure what beach this is. Probably Duxbury

Chapel at St. Margaret's Home, Montreal, where I first met the Sisters.
Sister Felicitas, Sister Rosemary, Sister Juliana, Sister Jane Margaret 

Chapel in Duxbury in the olden days.  What a gift. Memories.

And to Haiti, one of life's greatest gifts.

'My' children - girls in the afternoon school during a visit of Mgr Garnier

Sewing/embroidery class, Ecole Ste-Marguerite. Behind the cathedral.

We went for a picnic to Léogane - Ste-Trinité bus and another - overcrowded  beyond belief - everyone squeezed (as in squeezed) in. Everyone arrived and returned safely. A wonderful time was had by all.
Some of 'my' children - confirmation held two days before I left Haiti in 1973.
The children (mostly girls who are now called 'restaveks') were so proud when we developed a uniform for the school.
I designed the chasuble, mitre, etc in cross-stitch, and Sister Claire Marie's sister, Miscelène, embroidered it - the crest is the symbol of the Eglise Episcopale d'Haîti. Although it is beautiful, I prefer the modern Haitian embroidery to cross-stitch.  Mum ordered, and Sister Marjorie Raphael organized, a chasuble set for my ordination in 1992.
Our black cat, Peter on the front wall of the convent. Peter had a Siamese miaou. I have a talent for mimicking a miaou. Peter had to spend nights downstairs at the convent. Sister Joan called him, he ran down, and I miaoued from the top of the stairs. Sister Joan said to Peter, "And don't talk back."
Introducing Sister Jean's little poodle Sarah to one of our kittens at Kenscoff.
Sarah went in heat twice a year, moaned under Sister Jean's bed at night, and half the male dogs in PauP would show up in our courtyard, hopeful and noisy ... I threw water at them one night from the second floor balcony and the plastic glass escaped my hand and clatter, crash, banged onto the pavement below.  :-)
Sister Anne Marie in the courtyard of Sainte-Trinité, with the cathedral entrance in the background. I was holding the censer. I was sacristan at Cathédrale Sainte-Trinité and prepared  vestments, etc. for ordinations of numerous male clergy. Although I sensed a call to priesthood at one of the ordinations, it wasn't an option in the early 70's.

Our home at Kenscoff - retreats, rest, and relaxation

I loved the walk from Kenscoff towards Robin. There were tiny, tiny blue, blue flowers scattered along the path, people to greet, mountains to stir awe, always the scent in Kenscoff of the massive eucalyptus trees...  the only place in Haiti they were found. Driving up from PauP, we knew we were close to Kenscoff when the scent of eucalyptus reached our nostrils.

Pumping water. In the 1970's a stream ran by our home, our night lullaby. Women grew watercress for market. In 2003, when I returned for a visit, there was no running water and the stream bed was filled with garbage. The streams in Kenscoff have been diverted to provide water to the massive homes of the wealthy on the road to Kenscoff.

A woman washing leeks for market - Kenscoff, I think.
Sister Anne Marie was always on the move. Energetic. Passionate. Committed. She developed the first orchestra in Haiti, as well as being director of Ecole Ste-Trinité ... and more. 

In Connecticut - a day out with the Trinity Mountain campers

I'd been working at St. Monica's Home. Mum and Dad came for a visit and we went to Nauset Beach with friends who lived in Eastham.

Always loved, and still love, the angry sea. Nauset Beach a day after a storm.

Sewing, I think.

Visiting in St. Lambert - my niece and nephew, Lisa and Kevin c 1974

With Kevin and Lisa - p'raps at the airport.

Trousers Lake - on  holiday. We didn't swim in those days...
Trousers Lake. Good thing I didn't fall in. And where's my life jacket?

Unsure where this is ...
And now - today ...

Sharing the peace, Lent 3, 2015 at our little parish - St. Cuthbert, St. Hilda, & St. Luke


  1. Thank you for sharing Ros.... So special...

  2. Loved going back with you, Ros. As Jan said, "So special"!