Feast of St. James the Apostle, July 25, 2014
It is fitting that we are holding Sr. Margaret Mary’s funeral on the feast day of St. James the Apostle. Like James, Margaret Mary was devoted to Jesus and shared her passion and love with other people. James did it as an evangelist who with other disciples took to the road after Jesus’ resurrection. Margaret Mary did it more quietly perhaps, through her loving care for the sisters she lived with, the patients she visited at St. John’s Rehab, the residents at Cana Place (our Home for the Aged), with the sisters she nursed in our infirmary, with the many guests who received her gracious hospitality while she was Guest Sister on Botham Road and who often sought her counsel, and with the convent staff she supervised and worked with in her role as Clerk of the Works. And then there were the people and causes she prayed for regularly, including the Council of the North and the Native Justice of the Peace program.
While she did not take to the road in the literal way that St. James did, Margaret Mary followed
her own path in the Sisterhood just as steadfastly and purposefully.
As I was reflecting on the scripture readings for this service, I was struck by a prevailing
metaphor of “the road” or “the way.” The Bible is filled with references to “the way,” to the
road or path or journey that God calls us on. The 23rd Psalm which we sang a few minutes ago
is as much about a journey as it is about sheep. God the shepherd guides us along paths of
righteousness, leads us beside still waters, finds places of rest for us along the way, provides
food and anointing for our weary bodies. And the goal of this journey? The goal is to live in the
house of the Lord forever.
The goal of our lives is always ultimately about dwelling in God’s house, whether we are
conscious of that or not. We come from God and we return to God. That is what the gospel is
about. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And he assures us that he goes ahead of us on
the path to prepare a place for us. Jesus himself is the way. And in the reading from the book
of Revelation we also hear the good news that God makes a home among us, symbolized by
the heavenly Jerusalem.
These images of the way and of home bring me back to both Sr. Margaret Mary and St. James.
When I learned that her funeral was to be on this feast day I thought immediately of the
Camino de Santiago de Compostela – the famous pilgrimage route through northwestern Spain
to the shrine of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Compostela. Now I have never had the
opportunity to walk the Camino, the Way of St. James, but I love hearing and reading about
peoples’ experiences. The other night some of the sisters watched the DVD of The Way with
Martin Sheen. It is a beautiful film in its scenery, in the people and culture of the Camino. But
even more wonderful is the unfolding spiritual journey of redemption and reconciliation. It is
also a story about community, and about how we discover who we truly are both in our
aloneness and also in company with those who walk the journey with us.
In the film Tom, played by Martin Sheen, has been estranged from his son and when he learns
that his son died in a storm on the Camino, he flies over to retrieve the body and then is drawn
into walking the Way himself. He carries his son’s cremains with him, and as he comes to
various stops along the 400-km Camino, he scatters some of the ashes, marking his own route
and the route his son would have taken had he lived.
Tom meets up with three other very different people. In the journey to Santiago de
Compostela they each find who they are genuinely called to be, they give up what keeps them
from doing that, and they find the sacred balance between the integrity of self and the good of
the community. Paradoxically they discover that the self can only fully flower in community
and the community can only fully grow and mature is the individuals within it do.
Let me tell you a story about Sr. Margaret Mary which is a perfect example of this paradox of
solitude and community. When the sisters were deciding, back in 2002, whether to renovate
the old convent on Botham Road or to build a new convent. Margaret Mary was one of the few
who did not want to move, and especially she did not want to move here on Cummer Avenue.
She felt strongly that the old buildings were worthy of being renovated, that we already had an
urban oasis on a beautiful mature property with gardens and shade trees, with easy access to
the subway and in a quiet cul-de-sac bordered on three sides by ravine land. She believed that
moving here, next door to St. John’s Rehab, was going to be less protected, more noisy, and
because it is on a heavily-travelled street not at all private. She also feared that we would get
swallowed up by the big institution of the hospital next door and that we would lose some of
our focus on hospitality to guests, which was a big thing to her.
What is very moving about her resistance is the way she dealt with it, the inner journey she
travelled. It was her own Camino and the end of the pilgrimage was to discover that this was
indeed a holy place, a home, and worthy of her devotion every bit as much as the shrine of St.
James is to pilgrims on the Camino.
In a reflection she wrote in 2008, on the third anniversary of our move here, she said this:
Once the decision was made to move . . . to Cummer Avenue, I had to start the long process,
the hard work of grieving and of allowing myself to move to a place where I could offer
wholehearted support. I had to . . . work out on my own how we could live closely with a big
and powerful organization [next door] and still be our own self. And how to do this in
gentleness and peace. One of the things that we did was create a calendar the year that we
were moving – each month with a picture from a different part of the Botham Road convent.
This became my icon – here I prayed, here I cried, here I met God as I made my own personal
journey from Botham Road to Cummer Avenue.”
And while this was her personal journey, it was done of course in the context of community
and with the support of her sisters – even as she supported us in the process. And I believe
this is what allowed her to appropriate that journey and to become a strong supporter of our
life and mission in this place.
Sr. Margaret Mary was the Clerk of the Works at the time of the move – responsible for the
maintenance of buildings and grounds. She was also in charge of organizing the move, and her
written reflection talked about how all the details of that got her so involved that she was able
to take ownership of the process and give herself wholeheartedly to it.
Once we had moved into the new building, she said, “I had another journey to make. This was
to be my home, and how was I going to be at home here, in a place where I still carried my
fears? . . . I made sure that I got to know every little detail of the new place. As the Clerk of
the Works and Assistant to the Rev. Mother, I decided that the first priority was to create a
home, and to make this a homey place for my sisters and those who came to us.”
Her journey was a courageous one, and it is a journey that we all go on in different ways. We
all have to face our fears and resistances. It is easier if we have a strong community or family
around us to urge us on. In the end it is a solitary journey and yet one which follows the great
shepherd. Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you and you know the way” – and when
Thomas didn’t understand what he meant, and wondered what was the way, Jesus said I am
the way, the truth and the life.
n the first reading this morning, there is another wonderful image of “the way/” The writer of
the Book of Wisdom talks of the goal, the destiny of the righteous ones, the ones who follow
the way of God: “Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God
tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like
a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine
forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.”
Margaret Mary created many sparks – like the stars in the night sky of Compostela (which
means “field of stars”), she warmed the hearts of many people and started fires of love that
were shared way beyond the circle of her sisters. As Sr. Elizabeth Ann said a few days ago, we
can now picture her leaving aside her motorized scooter and her walker and running again, like
a young girl, following Jesus and setting on fire with love and passion the stubble on the path
In 2008 when Margaret Mary wrote the reflection of her journey from Botham Road to
Cummer Avenue, she summed up her whole life journey, her pilgrimage through the religious
life to God, and her literal journey when she said “I am comfortable and glad in the place that
we are now,” and she goes on to quote Julian of Norwich: “I can see that all shall be well,
indeed all manner of thing shall be well.”
Preached by the Reverend Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert
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