It’s Lent not November. By now you have at least pondered how you will try to alter your prayer and faith life for the good. You may or may have not been successful up to this point, the first week of Lent. At this season, though, it might be worth considering something that we, by habit, only refer to in November. This is in spite of the fact that we are actually at the end of winter and on the cusp of spring. Why are you here? Why are you in this place, thinking about faith things at this point in time? That’s easy, you’ve been marked!
Right, you have been permanently marked. First you were set apart by baptism, then confirmation and then by the circumstances of life. On a deep spiritual level, there are things that remain with us and mark us for life. The sacraments do that, love does that, hate does that, sin does that. There is another factor, though, that will also leave a permanent mark on each of us. That would be all of those who have ever gotten close to us for five minutes or five decades. During this Lent, though, why not give a “special group” some attention? If you take some time to look backward in your faith life, can you identify those people who moved you forward, held you up, taught you or were there to pray for you when you couldn’t pray for yourself? You might even be surprised that this group includes people who you only observed from afar. If you know anything about big cities and major cathedrals, you probably know that, as a community, they have their own cast of characters.
In my early life as a young adult Catholic I was involved in ministry at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. One of our “characters” impacted me every time I simply laid eyes on her. This was our “character” know as Martha. Maybe that was her real name, maybe not. When I met Martha, she was elderly and bent over in her way of going. More than that, though, was the life she had chosen. Rumor had it that at one time Martha had been a successful professional nurse. At Holy Name, though, she was only “of service”. Her garb was tattered and her hair unkempt in a tangle on top of her head. Clearly, she was homeless. But the way she lived was more than impactful. She occupied the Cathedral 24/7 as a self-appointed anchorite. She busied herself with prayer, greeting guests and keeping things in this enormous space tidy. She would clean and pick up stuff left behind. If you greeted her she would engage in a soul searing conversation with you where you knew, she knew you in a away no one else did. I never spoke to her for more than five minutes. I am still marked by her.
As a young teacher, I taught in some of the tougher schools of the inner city. Principals in these situations are doing their best to keep body and soul together as well as serve the kids and adults in their buildings. My first principal was a good guy. We never really had any extended conversations but he did one thing that I still think about. He gave me a nick name. When I would approach him for assistance or a question, his recognition of me always included: “What can I do for you ‘little one’”? It was always full of affection and gave me a comfort that I simply could not explain. Now I am FAR from even being close to petite and at 5’7” could hardly be classed as a little woman. None the less his call of me always filled me with assurance. He marked me! To this day, I ponder his choice of that nick name and that was well over forty years ago!
At an inner-city parish, I had become deeply involved in ministry despite the fact that it was a dangerous place to be. This parish was being held together by a great Benedictine who had been there for forty years. The person who was the glue for the congregation, though, was a Sister of Zion who was just “around” all of the time. She ran an outreach and was always present at liturgies. We became friends and when a new pastor came in and made it very difficult for her to stay I was enraged and depressed. I would speak with her and brainstorm about how to “fix things”. As a lifelong religious, though, she refused to get involved in the drama. No matter what kind of unfairness, injustice and lies were perpetrated against her she would not utter a single cross word, insult, protest or complaint. She would always come up with a positive counter to the situation and/or my protests. It was remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like that. To this day, she has nothing negative to say about the crazy situation. She marked me. Whenever I am asked to think of a holy person or example of a living Christ, I immediately think of her.
Because we are believers, we have powers that we don’t even know we possess. Whoever we are will leave a “mark” on people we come in contact with. This carries with it great responsibility. We also have responsibility, though, to hold up those who have marked us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us* and persevere in running the race that lies before us. (Heb. 12:1)
Besides being accompanied by the “great cloud” we are also part of that same cloud. As we persevere, we depend on as well as support others. Hebrews teaches us this is our legacy. During this Lent, perhaps you could recall those who have marked you in a great or small way. Give them the gift of prayer or thanks in person. Better yet, maybe you could ponder the “mark” that was left on you and use it as a tool to grow in the spirit as well as make you mindful of who you are.
Copyright© 2017, Kathryn M. Cunningham