When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)
For the past month, I’ve been a little busy at church. It’s Respect Life Month and I’m quite involved in the Gospel of Life ministry at my parish. These are angsty, tumultuous times in which we live, and our wise pastor, Fr. Richard Doerr, decided that it might be prudent to give those of us in his very blessed flock an antidote of sorts for what ails us all this month. That is to say, in what might appear to be a diversion from the typical life-affirming activities at a Catholic parish in the month of October, our shepherd decided that what we all needed was some oxygen. We needed to be reminded of the life-giving truth that being authentically Catholic is much more than a salve. We needed and received some beautiful fuel for our own tanks these last four Sundays. For me, it turned out to be one of the most life-affirming months in memory.
We heard from four stunningly different and yet remarkable religious speakers (from four different orders) each Sunday evening. Our final speaker was Sr. Mary Madeline Todd, O.P. She is a Dominican Sister of the Congregation of St. Cecilia. She’s taught elementary through college aged students, and she earned her doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. She has multiple master’s degrees, she’s written and contributed to many notable books and articles on topics related to spiritual and moral theology. She’s offered retreats across the world. What I’m trying to say is, Sr. Mary Madeline is REALLY FREAKING SMART.
Also, there’s this. She loves Jesus and it shows. Her joyfulness and optimism were an infectious force in my week. Maybe it was because she’s a big smarty pants that her words struck a chord…but I don’t think so. What feels more certain to me is that the Lord sent this instrument into the parish hall over there on 146th St. because He loves me and He knew how to reach me. You see, I’m stubborn. However, Sr. Mary Madeline is loud. She talks fast and her overwhelmingly authentic giggle is completely contagious. She began to talk, and I did something which is rare for me. I locked in. I knew Jesus was saying, “Hey, Shell…focus up. This is for you, sis.”
The demons of discord have been intensely present for me, like many folks, of late. People around me are hurting. I’ve been a little underwater. That’s what the culture of death does to us, if we let it. What Sr. Mary Madeline did was remind me that because I love the Lord, I cannot stand for evil and I am compelled to speak truth to others, and to pray for them, even when it’s inconvenient or I’m just flat SICK AND TIRED. The white flag of despair is not who we are. Hope is our jam as authentic Catholics. It wasn’t lost on her that there is tumult, scandal, fear, lies, abuse, immaturity and so much more going on in our world. She shared, with an infectious smile and in a spirit of life and truth, that we need more time speaking to God and less time on screens. She challenged us to put down our phones and pray the rosary, to talk to Jesus, and to NOTICE others just like Mary noticed the wine was just about gone there at the wedding at Cana.
Sr. Mary Madeline is a little gray at the temples, so she must be a little older than she seems? She’s so inspiringly full of life. I don’t know how old she actually is, but her spirit is exuberantly youthful. She told us that when we encounter folks who are lonely, whose eyes are dead, that we are doing a beautiful thing, like Mary. We are noticing the people of God around us. She also said she prays for them by saying quickly and simply, “They are out of wine, Lord.” In that simple act of faith, she has given that soul over to Jesus, because we know He is love. Then, our work is to LISTEN to Jesus and do whatever He tells us.
A few years ago, when I was feeling the tax season and wintertime blues, I sent a few mass intentions to a priest I didn’t know. I had been told by someone close to him that he’d moved to a new parish and that there weren’t any. My mother in law had recently passed away, and I wanted to offer a little sacrifice for her soul and a few others, so I figured I’d send a few mass intentions his way. The few extra dollars in his pocket were something I knew he needed, so it was a win-win. I sent a list of souls and for whom I wanted masses offered and asked that one final mass be said for my personal intentions. Nothing helps a case of the blues like a good deed, I find.
Months passed by and I forgot all about these requests. One day, in the mail, I received a note from the parish secretary. It was a quick list of all the dates on which the masses were said. The last mass was to be said that very day that I had received the note. It was March 24th– my birthday– and the mass was to be for my intentions that very day. Do you get it? I had received the best birthday gift in the world– from the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE. I wept at my desk. I sent my water, you see, and Jesus sent me the most delicious wine in return.
A love note from God is impossible to forget. Trust me. Even when things aren’t going my way, how can I NOT muster up the energy to remind others that they are loved? How can I allow the smoke of the devil to cloud my mind or slow these efforts? Sr. Mary Madeline jolted my heart loose by the sheer volume of her laughter and joyfulness. Hers is a beautiful soul. I’m so blessed I had the chance to meet her and hear her inspired words.
We have to love the dignity of all lives, folks. Our own and those around us. All of us belong to the kingdom of God. With her glorious prayer (that I’m TOTALLY STEALING ALREADY) “They are out of wine, Lord” what Sr. Mary Madeline helped Jesus remind me is that when we pray for vulnerable people (including ourselves), when we trust in Him, we are giving God an opportunity to provide. Jesus knows how to turn water into wine. He might need me to fill some jars with water, but the heavy lifting which is turning that water into the best wine at the party? The miracles of life? When we turn to him and trust Him, He will provide what we need and the graces too– peace, forgiveness– to do what’s hard.
Thank you, Sr. Mary Madeline for helping me focus on the good things of God. I’m thankful for your example of interior docility. It’s a spirituality of gratitude, the knowledge that God provides for us, that He loves us all. You are my “Person of the Week.” It’s a high honor which comes with zero prestige and no prize money, HA?! Congrats!!
For those of you who’d like to hear the audio of her talk, here it is.
Peace out, friends!