Encounter and Communion in the Garden of Life
Pilgrims of Hope in Communion
“For us in this Chapter, the two outstanding issues of hope in these times are the calls to care for our common home, and to grow in interdependence or communion.”
Very recently, I received a surprise visit at The Star of the North Retreat House. On a beautiful, May Friday morning I was coming into the house after building a few mulch beds in The Star’s Food Security Garden on the Oblate property near the Foyer. As I walked towards my office, I was informed my “appointment” had arrived. Intrigued and confused, I said to my colleague, “I don’t have any appointments this morning.” I turned the corner and there, down the hallway was a school mate I had grown up with over forty years ago in the town of Morinville, a fifteen-minute drive from The Star. We had grown up in Catholic school together, in the same class, for six years, throughout our junior/senior school years. I recognized him immediately, called out his name, and an overflow of joy and wonder filled my being at seeing him standing at the entrance. After eleven years at The Star, this was the first school mate to drop by to see me where I work. He was also the last person I’d ever expect to visit me at an Oblate Retreat house, with the religious ties that working there imply. To my knowledge he was not and had never been a religious person.
At one point in our ensuing conversation, he says to me, without guile, matter-of-factly, “So,… you are religious. I haven’t been, though I’ve raised my daughters in Catholic schools.” I consider his words spoken so trustingly. Deep down, our universal roots of communion still bind us and draw us together, just as the root of the word “religio” means – to bind the ligaments together. “Yes,” I respond, and unconsciously, with a bit of kind defensiveness, I say, “I’m still human.” The Oblates helped smooth a path for me forty years ago; a community of faith I’ve been nourished by, flourished in, and suffered with, and my Catholic faith has always been important to me, even when we were growing up”.
In my memory, he’d been the class clown; the one we needed to diffuse tension and to keep everyone, including teachers, in touch with their humility. He made us laugh at ourselves and with each other when conflict or tensions arose, as they inevitably do, and he did it all with an easy confidence and peace about him. Visiting with him for the next hour or so, the whole of our lives rushing in without pretense, I was aware he was opening a door or a window of communion with a part of my past I hadn’t dared hope was realizable forty years later. I see in this encounter the truth of how the Spirit blows where it will; the truth of how we truly are pilgrims of hope in communion.
By the end of our time together, I was inviting him to a meal I was planning with another school friend I’ve kept in touch with, and who he was wanting to connect with as well after these many years. The joy of nurturing communion, of giving thanks for reunion, and rejoicing in the echoes of Eucharist that accompany us, daily fuel hope on the journey. My experience of this encounter was a glimpse of what heaven will be like – an encounter with all the people we’ve seemingly left behind but whom God held in an interdependent union and communion all along. The grace given was being conscious of it.
The 37th Chapter document “Pilgrims of Hope in Communion” of the Oblates 37th Chapter, grants us a beautiful glimpse of the dignity, privilege, and joy of our call as Oblates and Associates, reminding us, “Nothing in this world is indifferent to us” (LS 3). We have become aware of the bonds that unite us as a religious family. This reflects the ecclesiology of communion of the Second Vatican Council which affirms: “It was God’s will to sanctify and save [humanity], not in isolation, without any connection with one another, but by constituting a people” (Lumen Gentium 9; cf. EG 113; Fratelli Tutti 137).
This speaks to me of my ‘chance’ encounter not as a chance at all. It speaks to me of the work of the Holy Spirit, binding us together at every opportunity, in and through every crack of defense or false sense of privilege that might make us think we are working out of an isolated specialness, and always at work and blowing where she will to “sanctify and save (humanity), not in isolation, without any connection with one another, but by constituting a people.” It speaks to me of Oblate communion alive in the larger communion of our Church in the world and in the smallest daily activities and encounters.
The Chapter document goes on to affirm a generous and miraculous truth, that wherever we are as a family, when one part of the family does something “in favor of the most abandoned”, we are all joined in “carrying out that act”.
Every mission in the Congregation is our mission. This reality invites us to accept that we cannot be in all the places and countries we would like to be. However, when an Oblate Unit does something in favor of the most abandoned, we are all carrying out that missionary action. This expresses the character of universality and communion as Oblates.”
The words pass through any sense of isolation and invisibility I or we might harbour, to the heart of hope and truth in the depths of the soul. Does my small act of work in the Food Security Garden, or the work done at the Retreat house with Spiritual Formation through retreats, programs, and Aurora Living, or my simple encounter with an old school mate, have any consequence in the Oblate communion? Similarly, do your small acts and encounters matter? Here the Chapter document truthfully say, yes. It raises every act in the Oblate world done in faith and love, to a level of foundational hope within communal interdependence and union in God that we all share in, whether we know it or not.
On meeting my school mate at the door, I instinctively led him outside to The Star Garden area where I had been working moments earlier. We stood in the garden, outside, sharing about our lives, where we are and where we’ve been, our families, and familiar connections we had growing up together.
Here, where food is grown and shared freely with others, and where community gathers to build the garden together and to share in its fruits and vegetables, I consider how the Oblates carried out their mission in my life, and I in theirs, mutually flourishing each other, restoring our truest dignity and purpose, fully human at the service of fullness of life for all. The word used in the Chapter to express this reality is interdependence, as a way of channeling what is written in Constitution 25, “By obedience, we become the servants of all. Challenging the spirit of domination, we stand as a sign of that new world wherein persons recognize their close interdependence”. 14.2 Integrating interdependence is learning to live as a member of a body.”
And the best response we offer each other for this interdependent awareness is thanksgiving, which at its Source is our sharing in Eucharist.
“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us” (LS 3). We have become aware of the bonds that unite us as a religious family.”
By Lucie Leduc