Therese of Lisieux was ill and enclosed in a convent and, while she certainly prayed for the masses of people outside her convent who needed prayer, she found a way to holiness through the "little way" for which she had the means and ability. She turned to her most immediate neighbors, her fellow sisters. and served them with love. She practiced a multitude of little kindnesses to the sisters, especially those who had been cruel to her.
I used to know an elderly disabled woman who many times would plaintively complain, "I just wish I knew what Ministry Jesus wants me to do! I keep asking him and He doesn't tell me." She looked beyond her neighbors, many of whom were needy and/or lonely. She had big dreams. She wanted to be a big deal and do big things for the faith by bringing lots of people to Jesus, yet she barely understood the faith herself and did not have the health to do much of anything except take care of herself.
I used to have a dream of starting a religious order for retired and disabled women - women who were not wanted by convents because they are not able to withstand the rigors of convent life. Nuns do not float around, six inches from the ground, hands clasped, and singing to the Lord all day. Being a nun in a typical contemplative convent is extremely taxing, both physically and mentally. All of the physical work of the maintenance of the premises is done by the nuns, as well as care of elderly sisters, cooking for the community, suffering lack of sleep and comforts, etc. The schedule can be relentless. It is not like a job, it is a 24/7 proposition
I still think that to create a contemplative order for disabled nuns is a good idea, and I think there is need for it, but I do not have the wherewithal to do it. Obviously, if the Lord intended me to be the person to bring this dream to fruition, He would have ensured that I had the requisite health and resources to accomplish a goal of this magnitude. Obviously, He had other ideas in mind.
Clearly, I need to avail myself of a good dose of humility and be content with the tiny little contributions that I can make for Jesus.
It is my impression that, if we wish to follow Jesus and we wonder what ministry He would have us do, we should look at the person sitting next to us in church, the lady in front of us in line at the supermarket, the widow living in the house down the street. The poor, the needy, the marginalized, the lonely, the abandoned are all sitting next to us. They are right in front of our faces, but we don't see them.
You could invite a lonely person out to lunch; smile at all the customer service people who take your money at the dry cleaners or the drug store or the supermarket; have a few single ladies over for tea; or have a conversation with someone who is odd, a little strange or repellent. Make friends with the friendless. Take care of His sheep.
I have learned that Jesus wants us to follow Him, but we don't have to do it with a marching band, an army of converts, or a convent full of disabled sisters. I am learning that a handful of kind gestures and a bucket full of smiles may be his most treasured gift.
God bless us all.
Silver Rose Parnell
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