This past weekend I had the pleasure and honour of attending the wedding of a very close family member - I consider him my adopted brother. He and his fiancé have been through much already in their relationship, but have stood firmly together despite the tragedies that life has presented them with. The priest who married them advised that there were three key elements that would be necessary for their marriage as they enter the rest of their lives together. First, was to burn the ledgers, to not keep score; second, to look to the best interest of the other by supporting and loving each other in sickness and in health, for better or for worse; and third, to fully allow the Spirit into their relationship and their daily life so that they are changed and so that they are different for the world around them, that their marriage would serve as a witness to God's unfailing love.
Just days before this joyous wedding celebration I was meeting with a couple who recently lost their first born child. The end of a life so precious and so soon. Grief that has no easy answers and no easy solutions. So many 'firsts' and stages of development and life milestones they won't get the chance to experience together. The couple is now struggling with a future that looks quite different than what they originally anticipated and so hoped for. And despite at times wondering where God is in the midst of their circumstances, they recount the deep love and care of their family, friends, and priest as well as the genuine kindness of strangers and in these ways they see God's presence with them and are finding faith and hope.
Holding joy and sorrow, hope and uncertainty simultaneously are a large part of what we all might experience in our work and in our personal lives. The range of life experiences we might encounter even in a short period of time can be overwhelming.
Just a couple of weeks ago I heard a powerful homily that was based on a scripture from the book of Romans that reminds us of one of God's greatest promises that can be incredibly assuring at times of struggle, sorrow or uncertainty:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
We were not given any attempts at easy answers or easy solutions, but were encouraged to simply sit with, to try and grasp, to do our best to engage with the promise that God's love is
always with us. We were also encouraged to acknowledge rather than deny difficult questions that arise: how is it that as Canadians we can experience the freedom to go where we please, to choose where we shop and with whom we choose to spend our time with while thousands of Syrian refugees are struggling to survive and to stay alive? Where is God's love in that situation or in our own personal struggles and sufferings?
At present we find ourselves in Ordinary Time; not the introspection of the Lenten journey, not the Christmas celebration of the birth of Christ, the grief of his death or the awe of his resurrection at Easter. And yet, it is also a time to heed the call of Pope Francis to be deeply engaged in an
extraordinary way through a spirit of Mercy.
Here are some suggestions of ways to engage in discussion with students about God's LOVE that can lead to a rich formation opportunity and point toward ways of engaging in the message of Mercy:
1. First establishing an understanding of love, which will be different and subjective for each person, by having a conversation about love:
a) What is it?
b) What does it sound like?
c) What does it look like?
1. If it had a colour, shape, size...this can turn into a creative exercise using craft supplies.
Having a conversation about what the students think about the messages of the Bible about love as compared to the messages they hear in pop culture music - not to make them feel poorly about their choice of music, but to make it an exercise in critically evaluating the messages they receive from industries, such as the music industry.
3. How do you think we might be able to be God's love to the people around us?
4. How do you think we might be able to be God's love to the natural world around us?
5. How do we see God's love show up in our lives...maybe even through strangers?
6. Linking present day local and global social justice issues with the call to love...what difference can we make in our own ways using our own time and talents?
7. Engaging in 'wondering questions' about what St. Paul experienced in his life that led him to proclaim with such powerful conviction that nothing has the power to separate us from the love of God.
a) Eg. I wonder what motivated St. Paul to say these things after experiencing lots of trials, including being imprisoned?
b) I wonder how the words of St. Paul make a difference for my life today? What might seem more possible in my life if I began to absorb the words of the scripture from Romans 8?
I pray you will not onl
y be able to engage in fruitful conversation and wonderings with your students, but also with colleagues, with your families and with yourself. As Christians, we love and serve a God of infinite love - knowing this is one thing, but to embrace and live deeply in this knowledge can truly be life-giving and life changing.
Melissa Page Nichols MSW, RSW