God loves you and so do I

My heart is a bit heavy this Christmas. A good friend of mine Sister Claire recently passed home to God after faithfully serving Our Lord for 67 years as a religious. Her mantra was “God loves you and so do I.” I wished to share some experiences of God’s waves of change crafted from the ripples from Claire’s many, small kindnesses. I hoped this would allow each of us insight to recognize each opportunity we have to share God’s love. Seeking to be and encouraging others to live new ways of being conduits for God’s love can be the gift we each choose to give Jesus this Christmas.

As I walked beside Sister Claire in friendship, I saw how she loved God in prayer and worship, but also in each and every person she met. I began to see also that somehow her loving kindness made an individual connection that served to call forth the best from within those with whom she interacted. Claire had wished to daily visit her good friend Sister Marion who resided in a nearby nursing home. She had petitioned her order to live outside the religious community in a low-income housing project. Claire assisted a visiting priest to bring Mass to the building once each week. The other times of the week Sister Claire walked among the residents there. When I asked her why, she responded quietly that these were the people who really needed to know and feel God’s love. 

I did not have eyes to see what she saw. Truthfully, each time I visited, I thanked God when I turned the dead bolt. I remember once this huge, angry man blocked my way. I knew I was at his mercy and I feared he had none to give. He grew calm as he said, “You visit with Sister Claire. She is a good person. I will take care of both Sister Claire and you.” I realized that he had been transformed by Sister Claire sharing God’s love with him. For him, he had gently offered the best of what he had to give: strength and protection. 

That incident changed the course of my life. I mentioned it to Claire who smiled and said, “God can write straight with crooked lines.” I wondered what that really meant. After much reflection, I realized that I truly wished to be able to see people and events through God’s eyes instead of my worldly ones. I can laugh at this now, but I promised God I’d work on it. 

Actually, I had to learn to choose to stop doing. That is the beginning of being in the present tense with God. As it went against who I was taught to be in serving God, I resisted this change. It took pneumonia to stop me. One day I opened my door to find groceries and a smiling Sister Claire. She told me simply to rest in God’s hands. The next step was learning self-patience. To do this, the Holy Spirit guided Claire to bring forth from me something I was sure I could not do. She taught me to knit. My growth in being still with God continued as Claire and I found, completed and framed many religious puzzles. The first of these was Jesus knocking on the doorway to the heart (the door has no outside handle). Any time I need a reminder of the importance of patience with myself and others, as well as the difference that makes in our world, I need only glance at the framed puzzle.

The final step was learning to recognize and choosing to be attentive to God’s gentle whisper to my heart. That voice is what serves to guide one’s actions in service to Our Lord. Claire shepherded me in growth in this with showing me how to let the Holy Spirit guide me in writing a prayer reflection for Morning Prayer for the high school. 

God’s gentle whisper guided me to begin to look past the surface to the potential that lays within the person. Though she never explained, that focus on listening to God and that gift of vision is what I believe allowed Claire to connect instantly and so deeply with others. Anyone who was upset or feeling down got a smile from Claire. Claire would always listen. Claire always thanked people. Her thank you was a sincere message of gratitude for someone who touched her life. It was remarkable to see the positive difference that message made in the life of the recipient. 

In some ways, dementia delivered Claire to a child-like state. Yet, there was an unquenchable joy and love that radiated forth even more strongly. Her smile could instantly banish all worldly worries. This was true whether the person deeply knew or had just met Claire. 

For some years now Claire and I have assisted a child at Christmas. Tonight, there is a little boy going to bed in his fleece, superhero PJs after having played outside all day in his blue winter coat. Stay warm, healthy, happy and safe young man. Grow to be the wonderful man God created you to be. Each night, that little whisper you hear as you go to sleep is Claire’s, “God loves you and so do I.”

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River. biochemwz@hotmail.com

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