Yesterday’s gospel reading was the one about the importunate widow, who managed to get a hard-hearted judge to render her a just decision by her persistent pleas in Luke 18:1-8. The homily was given by a sister of Notre Dame who told us amazing stories about the work of the nuns.
One story described how they managed to get electricity to run a hospital deep in the Congo by appealing to a French solar power company who eventually donated all the equipment. But since the roads were impassable half the time, the sisters realized they had better become self sufficient in terms of keeping the system in good repair. So a French engineer spent months in the Congo teaching the sisters and elders. Now the sisters have half a dozen such solar powered hospitals in the Congo, self-maintained by the sisters and native people they serve.
Another story was a about a nun who felt a calling to help the indigenous people in the rain forests of Brazil. She had to appeal many times to her director before given permission to travel into areas totally disconnected from the modern world, but eventually did manage to go, teaching the people sustainable agriculture and helping them win many lawsuits against multinational corporations attempting to take their land away. (Eventually at the age of 76, she was shot by bounty hunters, as a price had been placed on her head, but remains a great inspiration to the indigenous tribes, who loved her.)
The sister tied this into the gospel reading by saying, “Could it be that miracles of God happen when the people of God persist against all odds in their works of faith? Their faith that the love, truth, and righteousness of God are more powerful than evil, or any obstacle?”
The sisters displayed a courageous tenacity that is deeply humbling. But in my own much easier life, I can certainly affirm that experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. For all these years, we have loved Peter, and poured our energies and time into trying to help in his development. Many times we have been tempted to give up hope, but God gave us the love and faith we needed to persist. Even as recently as a few months ago, when a speech pathologist asked Peter to describe Mom, he gave a very concrete answer, “She loves to make the bed,” as I had just insisted he make his bed that morning. But last Friday, Peter gave me the answer to my heart’s desire as a mother.
I was talking to Peter about how we had braved the big space and music of the ballroom dancing class at the YMCA gym. “Did you like it, Peter?” I asked. “Yes,” said Peter. “Wasn’t it amazing to dance to the music? Did you find it harder to dance with music, or fun?” Peter typed his reply, “I like the music but I want to be with you.” Wow! I felt blown away at that moment. Although Peter had shown me through his actions, that was the first spontaneous, spoken affirmation Peter had ever made that he loved me.
Peter similarly melted the heart of his big sister Judy. She has suffered many a whap from a frustrated Peter during piano lessons, such that there was a time she even carried a big pillow with her during the lessons to use as a shield when needed. So the following conversation meant a lot to her:
Judy: “Peter, I notice how you find touch helpful in typing. Would it be helpful to you if I used touch more often in our piano lessons?” (The facilitated communication SLP had just introduced Judy to the basics of how to support Peter while typing, using touch to help the student keep his rhythm.)
Peter: “the piano is the provider of your rhythm so i think you do not need to change .”
Judy: “Do you have any other suggestions on how you would like me to change my teaching?”
Peer: “the piano lesson is our time together that is the important part.”
Judy was stunned. She had had no idea that the lessons meant so much to Peter. Afterwards, she exclaimed, “I love Peter!”
Such is the power of words to give spirit and life! I feel like we have received “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38) Praise God for his miracles! And I don’t mean the typing, which was just the final step allowing expression of the miracle. The real miracle had been happening all along, the love, the connection, the bonding forged through years of interaction, and the foundations of language laid through years of teaching. Miracles can happen slowly and quietly, if we have the faith to hope, patience to persist, and humility to wait, realizing our limitations in perceiving growth that may be real, yet silent.