by Martha Shepherd.
When you live on donations, the most unexpected things can happen. On Holy Thursday, 1991, AJ (Arlene Becker), the director of our house, and I were praying Lauds (morning prayer), when the phone rang. When AJ returned from answering it, she said, "We’ve been offered a trip to Medjugorje, and I think it’s for you."
When asked, Jean Fox, the director general of women of MH at the time, agreed. And so, thirty minutes later, it was all settled. I was going on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje with 50 others from Ottawa and Montreal. And I was leaving in three weeks!
I was stunned, overwhelmed, trying not to be too excited. Obviously this was the will of God. I wanted to fulfill that will, but my experience has been that that seldom means fun and games.
Our friends were not so cautious. People got wind of the trip and began coming with smiles and spending money. One even brought Baedeker’s Yugoslavia and two maps. I was so touched. They were all just so happy for me, eager to add to what was already an overwhelming gift.
Without consciously planning it, I set myself to be worthy of all this generosity. I would be on my apostolic toes at all times. I would anticipate every need around me, be the first to pass every dish, the last to take any seat. It would be love in action all the way. I even packed light, the better to be able to carry others’ suitcases.
Well, the joke was on me. I did manage to help one lady (age 81), through the maze of the airport cafeteria. But after that, someone beat me to the punch every time. Judging from my experience, I’d say that if you want to "see how those Christians love one another," go on a pilgrimage with some.
But what really messed up my plans to merit this pilgrimage with my virtue was not the virtue of my companions, but the migraine headache that leveled me during our lunch break the second day of traveling.
It was a really bad one and included a hair trigger reflex of stomach to every light, sound, motion, and smell. And ahead of us lay six hours of travel by bus through the mountains in an unseasonable blizzard. I would gladly have welcomed death, and was sure I was hated by everyone.
But not so. In addition to everything else, I was given genuine compassion. People held bags, passed wet cloths, and prayed the rosary when things got really bad. They prayed at least thirty decades.
When we finally reached the village of Medjugorje, I, the would-be carrier of elderly ladies’ suitcases, was almost a stretcher case.
My 68-year-old roommate brought me a cup of tea. As I collapsed on my bed, she went off with a jaunty, "We’ll see you later, dear," to join the others for Mass and supper.
The whole week was like that. Not only were my services not needed, but other people were taking care of me. My debt was growing, not shrinking. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t justify this gift. I couldn’t earn it.
Gradually, the word the Lord was trying to give me, reached me: I didn’t earn this trip; I didn’t deserve it. I hadn’t even asked for it.
Neither did I earn, deserve, or ask for any of the extras that were given to me before the trip or along the way, or the mercy, kindness, and acceptance of all. From beginning to end, I did nothing but receive.
Among the many, many graces of that week, I was given the word, "receive." Receive the gift offered to you. Receive the love offered to you. Receive the grace and salvation offered to you. You’ll never be able to deserve it, justify it, be worthy of it.
And don’t be afraid there’ll be a price to pay later. The gift of God is free. Don’t miss it.
to be continued
—Adapted from a newsletter, May 5, 1991
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