At The Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alberta, the halls and rooms are quiet save a very few people who have decided to ‘come away awhile’ for their Lenten Retreats online. During the week, three or more of us gather for Eucharist – our time of communion with the world, with Oblates around the world, and with Christ Jesus in all – and then we part to work quietly through our day, to give and do our part as leaven in the bread, or growing seeds in the earth.
Daily there are stories passed around. A seventy some year-old woman, living nearby on the hill, who came to the Star earlier last year, desperate to connect with anyone, and lonely for a kind and friendly ear, is doing well, I am told. She came with her walker to our door in the spring last year, at the start of the pandemic and I listened to her anguish at not being heard by doctors or the little family left to her. She felt alone, having no one to listen, and so I listened. I connected her with another Oblate Associate who lives nearby her as well. She calls regularly to talk with her, and she is received and heard with kindness, respect, boundaries and care. She tells us with a hint of longing perhaps or uncertainty (?) in her voice how she was not raised with any faith or religion.
Yesterday, just before Eucharist, I hear how this woman comes to sit on the bench in front of the Star to pray regularly now. She called my fellow Oblate to tell her this story. She was sitting on the bench this past week praying, and she was straining to see the cross on the Albert Lacombe chapel just down the lane. With the cross hidden from view, she got anxious. Is it there, she wondered? So, she got up and walked down the lane toward the chapel, and there it was, clear before her eyes. Then she said, “I heard a strong voice in me say, ‘See, I have been with you all along.’” We have seen this woman transforming from fear, anxiety, loneliness, and dread, to some lightness of heart, and a growing trust, and faith in God and in others.
It is easy to give up when there is no one with the time and the presence to listen. But I see how this woman did not give up. Somehow, she found us, and she persevered until she found others and God who has time and presence to listen. I saw in her the grit, tenacity, and drive, despite her physical diminishment, that would make our Founder proud.
St. Eugene added a fourth vow of perseverance for his missionaries, having likely himself experienced the struggle to stay the course, eyes fixed on the cross in service to the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. He knew it is not easy to listen, be present and to serve others for their greater good. Dedication and tireless endurance are needed as much as poverty, chastity, and obedience, now as then.
The ministry of Oblate Retreat Centres is to offer hospitality and space, where the heart can be heard, gifts can be discerned, and service renewed for the greater good of all. ‘Come away awhile to a lonely place’, Jesus said to his disciples. In the lonely place, like this woman, where our doubts, fears and loneliness gnaw at us, we find that God has been and is with us all along the way.
By Lucie Leduc