Dear Friends of Madonna House of Ottawa,
Fr. Bob Poole will be saying a memorial Mass for Martha Shepherd on Saturday, November 17th at Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, 20 Grant Street, Ottawa K1Y 2Y9. Mass will begin at 11am with light refreshments to follow and a time for sharing memories of Martha.
For more information, contact Shatzi Duffy at MH Ottawa 613-729-0956. All are welcome.
Fr. Robert Johnson’s homily at Martha Shepherd’s wake service
In the homily Fr Robert said that Fr. David May had asked him to be prepared for this night. He was in Ottawa, accompanying Fr. Denis for his surgery when he heard the news of Martha’s death. He phoned back to remind people he’d been asked to do the wake and to say he’d be back in time. Instead of waiting at the hospital, Fr Robert’s heart told him to spend the time at MH and he went with joy and it proved to be a real gift. He and Shatzi had Mass together, which he offered for Martha and also for his dad, whose anniversary it was. Fr. Robert spent the rest of the time praying in the chapel and in one of the poustinias.
Although he and Martha didn’t know each other well ‘whenever we saw each other, our hearts were one; we understood each other. Asking why, I realized that for nine years I’d worked with the St Vincent de Paul in the neighbourhood of the house; and so we had both moved among the anawim there - the little ones of God, whose only treasure is the Lord.’ Martha was a woman of culture, she had a great mind, was a great writer and story teller. According to some of her friends, she was a woman of iron will. Above all she was a poustinik – her whole apostolic life was as a poustinik in the marketplace. Fr. Robert felt it a privilege to be in her poustinia and had a deep experience of praying the Jesus prayer.
‘I saw Martha’s garden and what a garden – another characteristic of Martha was that she was extravagant - and this was the garden of gardens, magnificent… Martha was a desert dweller. We’ve all come from a desert, drawn to MH, and, then espoused to Christ, we are called to return to the desert.’ It was in that desert that Martha experienced her Beloved and in the desert of the marketplace Martha, espoused to the Lord, found her heart bloomed. Her card tells us she was a light to her neighbours’ feet. That’s what a desert dweller, a poustinik is, and the desert blooms. Then she could enter the desert of her neighbour’s life, bringing the light of Christ - so they can be espoused. She also had to be a dreamer. You can’t live in the desert for 30 years, and have a garden like that, a second Eden, unless you are a dreamer.
The dream is dreamed in God; the dream of the new Heavens and the new Earth. The words Behold I make all things new must have been in the depths of Martha’s heart; the Lord must have spoken those words often to her. And so she gardened because she was a dreamer; she knew she was making all new in the desert. She lived that reality ‘so now we pray that she knows the fullness of that eternal newness which is the Lord.’
Fr. Bob Wild’s homily at the funeral of Martha Shepherd
Fr. Wild gave a wonderful homily. The readings he had chosen were I Thess 4: 13-18 and John 11:17-21. He began by welcoming all those who had come from Ottawa:
For many of us, your presence is the greatest testimony to Martha’s life, so thank you for coming…When the body of a loved one is present it is very a moving time. It is appropriate we pray, sing, be silent, read the scriptures and I guess it’s also necessary to talk…
One of the obvious reasons I chose this Gospel is that it’s the most astounding event in the Lord’s life of his power over death. We come to express our faith that the Lord has called Martha’s name just as he called Lazarus. ‘Martha! Martha!’ And we believe that nothing in the whole Universe can prevent her going into the arms of Christ. I chose this Gospel for another reason, also - Martha makes this amazing profession of faith. She is the first person in Scripture to publicly acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
For many people hearing the word Martha in the scriptures – well, we think of her probably not as her best self. ‘Lord why have you left me to do all the work by myself?’ But really Martha is a very great person of faith. I always give a little chuckle when it says Mary kept sitting at home. Mary seems to be doing a lot of sitting! You would think when the Lord comes she would go out and meet him! Anyhow, we give thanks today to Jesus that our sister, Martha, believed what her patron believed, that Jesus is the Christ, and we celebrate today that she persevered to the end in this faith.
I chose the first reading because of the word comfort – but the Latin word is console. St Paul says console one another on these occasions when someone falls asleep – a beautiful phrase that the early Christians used - Jesus said that to God everyone is alive. Paul says that we don’t want you to grieve like the rest of people with no hope. He is not saying Christians shouldn’t grieve. We just read that Jesus wept. It’s not that we don’t grieve when someone dies - Paul is saying don’t grieve as if you have no hope for the person who has passed away. Don’t grieve out of hopelessness. Grieving and hoping are not incompatible. We are grieving but our grieving is penetrated with great hope in the Resurrection.
I chose this line because I think we come together – yes, to pray for Martha – but I’m sure Martha is more at peace than we are right now. I had the great privilege of being with her in her last illness. The Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II’s - it was his belief that at the time of death -people get a tremendous amount of grace and I always believe that the person himself or herself is much more at peace than the people around the bed, because they are being inundated with the grace that they need at this time.
So in the spirit of consoling us I thought you would find it consoling to know that Martha was fully conscious when I had the privilege of giving her all the last Sacraments. She was fully conscious at Communion time; at the wonderful Anointing when the priest says ‘May the Lord forgive you whatever sins you have committed with your eyes. Whatever sins you have committed with your speech – it’s a beautiful blessing. It’s always very moving for a priest to say these prayers of forgiveness for all the senses of the human person. She was also fully conscious of the many beautiful and consoling prayers of the Church. I think many people have never really heard these prayers…I like to use the prayers from the Roman Missal. They are so powerful… So I will read one. As I prayed it Martha responded to different phrases that touched her heart. It was one of the last prayers she heard before falling asleep in the Lord:
Dear sister, I commend you to Almighty God, and entrust you to Him who created you, so that when, by your dying, you have paid the debt to which everyone is subject, you may return to your Maker; to Him who formed you from the clay of the earth. Then, when your soul goes forth from your body, may the radiant company of Angels come to meet you; may the assembly of the Apostles welcome you; may the victorious army of white robed Martyrs meet you on your way; may the glittering throng of Confessors, bright as lilies, gather about you; may the glorious choir of Virgins receive you; may the Patriarchs enfold you in the embrace of blessed peace; may St. Joseph, beloved patron of the dying, raise you high in hope; and may the holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, lovingly turn her eyes towards you; and then, gentle and joyful, may Christ Jesus appear before you to assign you a place for ever among those who stand in his presence. What a way to leave our earthly condition!
There are many texts from the scriptures to console us. I will mention a few and apply them specifically for Martha.
separate Martha from the love of Christ?
Whether she lives or dies Martha is the Lord’s.
Martha has an everlasting home in heaven.
Martha shall be with the Lord forever.
Martha shall see God as he really is.
Martha has passed from death to life because she loved.
Martha believed that she would see the Lord in the land of the living.
Though Martha walked in the shadow of death she now fears no evil because the Lord is with her.
Come Martha, blessed of my Father, and take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
I desire that where I am Martha may also be with me.
Everyone who believes in the Son has eternal life.
Into your hands lord we commend our sister Martha.She who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise her up on the last day.
How many Communions did Martha receive?
I needed a listening ear and you spent hundreds of hours listening me back to life.
When Cheryl Ann heard about Martha’s illness she wrote up some reflections and I would like to quote a few of them:
"I phoned Martha just as she was entering the house after receiving the news that her cancer was terminal…she was shattered, yet three hours later God had filled her with an experience of his light and love and he gave her a word: Follow the Lamb wherever He leads. When I spoke with Martha a couple of days later her voice was different, the peaceful presence of God had taken up residence in her heart again. What else mattered? She said: I am not trying to figure this one out. I did nothing to bring the darkness on and I did nothing to come out of it. I am just following the Lamb wherever he leads. If he leads me to my death, that is glory because he is there. If he gives me a physical healing that will also be glory. Martha’s love kept pushing her to give a little more and a little more until she collapsed. Later she wondered: ‘Was I just stubborn in pushing too hard?’ But she said: ‘Are we not to literally lay down our lives for others for love. I had to choose that path. Our Little Mandate says love, love, love, not counting the cost’.”
I think for many of us it was very providential that Martha died a couple of hours into our anniversary which is the foundation of the whole Apostolate. I like to think that Catherine was praying for her and perhaps helped to accompany her on the great journey. I was not Martha’s spiritual director but we always enjoyed one others company. And when she first came here and she was trying to decide whether to join MH or not in one our sessions she said: “If I join MH I will have to give up my car, my clothes, my money, my education…” She was going on and on. When she got tired of talking I went like this [shrugs]. She told me several times, the last time within the year, that shrug of the shoulders was one of the turning points in making her decision. I said [shrugs] ‘In comparison with Christ what is that?’
In our small calendar B’s word for October 15th was: What will you bring to your Beloved when you die? A crown of gold or a sceptre of ivory you have carved? Poetic verses to move multitudes [or we might add great stories that you have told]?Music to enchant the world? Books to make him better known? No, your life is made up of a myriad of small humble tasks, you will bring him meals well made, children well cared for, forms filled out, endless trips to obtain this or that. There will be years of such little things, but these are the humble gifts you will bring to him.
What will Martha bring? The presence of so many people here today is the answer. Martha was a spiritual mother to many of you, and she has written words of life on each of your hearts. Her legacy, her gift to the Lord, is what is in your heart fromMartha, the listening hours that helped to bring you back to life, the hours of listening souls into existence. That is what she will bring to the Lord. She will say “Lord I bring you a humble gift of thousands of hours of listening to my brothers and sisters”, and Jesus will say: “Welcome home!”
I want to close with the great prayer from the Ritual again that Martha consciously heard and that John Henry Newman included in his great work the Dream of Gerontius, set to music by Elgar. This is one of the last payers that Martha would have heard.
Go forth from this world O Christian soul: In the name of God the Father Almighty who created you; In the name of Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God who suffered for you; In the name of the Holy Spirit who has been poured forth upon you; In the name of the holy and glorious Mother of God, the Virgin Mary; In the name of St Joseph, her illustrious spouse; In the name of all the Angels and Archangels; In the name of the Thrones and Dominations; In the name of the Principalities and Powers; In the name of the Virtues, the Cherubim and Seraphim; In the name of the Patriarchs and Prophets; In the name of the holy Apostles and Evangelists; In the name of the holy Martyrs and Confessors; In the name of the holy Monks and Hermits; In the name of the holy Virgins and of all the Saints of God. May peace be your dwelling today, and may your home be in holy Zion.
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