Prayer + Service = #HolyPeople

#HolyPeople
Sr. Loreci and I back in 2012 during my first visit to Albania.

 

All week long people have been contributing to a series called #HolyPeople – A Pentecost Celebration, a blog link up hosted by Liz Schleicher, a former college classmate, later parishioner, and friend. So far there have been great posts. The first by Johanna Wahlund, about her friend Luisa. Yesterday, Leticia Adams wrote about Noe. Today, it’s my turn.

Be sure to keep checking back throughout the week.

I wrote about my initial questions regarding holiness and the project earlier this week, so be sure to check that post out as well.

Tell me the story of the holiest person you’ve ever met

It’s not an easy question, because I believe I’ve been blessed to meet so many people from all over the world who are quite holy. It was so hard to chose just one, but at the end of the day I had to “trust my gut.” So in trusting my gut, I don’t intend to speak ill or lesser of anyone else, but rather to highlight some of the most intense expressions of holiness I have experienced.

To me this person is Sr. Loreci. She is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who, if I was allowed, I would have chosen as a whole group. They are my dear friends, but they also challenge and inspire me to more fully live out my vocation everyday.

I first met Sr. Loreci when I spent the summer doing missionary work in Albania. Sr. Loreci, originally from Brazil, worked as the head nurse in their health clinic. I served as her assistance and pharmacist, or on a second trip, deacon. I have told many stories about Sr. Loreci in my homilies over the years all around the world, from Rome, to Connecticut.

What in my gut leads me to name Sr. Loreci? In short it’s her capacity to integrate her prayer life with her apostolic work in the face of great injustice and suffering, all while still maintaining a cheerful disposition.

Holy Stories

A few stories to bring that bold statement to life (warning – some of them are medically gross):

In her examination room in the clinic, she did not have the typical posters of human anatomy you might find the doctor’s office. Instead she had an image of Christ on the cross. While carefully removing bugs from holes in a man’s infected feet, she invited him to look up at the image of Christ crucified and to unite his sufferings to Christ, even going to the detail of pointing to the nail through Christ’s feet. This encouraging patients to understand their pain through the suffering of Christ was a daily practice. It was a beautiful way for her to care not only for their physical wounds, but also their spiritual ones.

The day before my second visit to Albania, Sr. Loreci had suffered a great tragedy. Back home in Brazil two men broke into her sister’s home and killed her brother in law, in cold blood, in front of his children, her nieces and nephews. Now I don’t know about all of you, but if that was me, I’d be pretty angry and would want come back and at least comfort my sister, if not go after the guys who did it. But what did Sr. Loreci do, she got up in the morning, prayed morning prayer, went to Mass, and then off to the homes, to imitate Christ. She wasn’t superhuman or immune to suffering from this terrible incident, there was time for mourning and sadness too, but the faithfulness in her response to keep doing what she was called to do in that moment remains so inspiring to me.

Then there is story that tops them all. I’m not sure words can ever do it justice, but I’ll try.

One morning we received a phone call at the health clinic. We were told that this man’s cousin, 33 years old was suffering from extreme internal and external burns as a result of an electrical accident. He was so badly burned, he could not come to the clinic. So we went to his house. When we arrived the man was lying in bed in only a pair of boxers as his entire body from shoulders to toes was covered in third degree burns. Most would want to turn and run away at the sight. It was truly horrific. His vocal cords were damaged so you could see his neck strain, and his toes curl, as if he was crying out in pain, but no noise came out. Instead of turning away from such suffering, Sr. Loreci went right to work, so carefully tending to each and every single one of his wounds. We ended up there for hours.

I sat at the end of the bed attempting poorly to console the mother of the man, his wife and his little daughter. As I noticed the most profound wound on this man was on his torso near the heart, it occurred to me that as I sat at his feet, with his mother, it was like being gathered at scene of the crucifixion. Furthermore, I was watching this sister, an Apostle of the Sacred Heart, curing the gash in his side. His accident was only made possible by the economic injustices and poverty present in his country.

That evening, after we had returned home and made our evening holy hour, after dinner I asked Sr. Loreci a question, “Sister, how do you do it everyday?” She looked at me and said, “If it weren’t for Jesus, I couldn’t do anything.” More specifically, she added, “If it weren’t for Christ in the Eucharist, I couldn’t do anything.”

Holy Integration

That level of integration between the sacraments, the spiritual life, and service is holiness to me. It’s what I want. What I strive for. It’s what I’ve seen in others as well, but perhaps most concretely in Sr. Loreci. So for now, that’s the story of the holiest person I’ve ever met.

What about you? Feel free to write you own post and join the link up. Don’t forget the hashtag #HolyPeople, and to link to Liz’s post.

#HolyPeople – A Pentecost Celebration

A former college classmate, and in a weird twist, later a parishioner of mine, Liz Schleicher recently reached out and asked me to contribute to a blog link up called, “#HolyPeople – A Celebration of Pentecost.” There’s no way I could turn down this inspiring, mom of two little ones, wife of a drummer, cancer survivor, great writer, faith filled friend.

The prompt?

Tell me the story of the holiest person you’ve ever met

At first the theologian in me wanted to overanalyze the question. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one of the writers with this problem.

What is holiness?

Then how we would determine who is the “holiest?” How do we define meeting someone? Is it to be in their presence? Shake their hand? Or actually developing a relationship with them?

Pope Francis recently reminded us in his exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” that holiness is a universal call, expressed in many different forms. In the history and present of the Church there are present a variety of spiritualities. Thus the holiest person is not necessarily the person who spends the most time in Adoration every day, nor the person who does the most sacrificial work. It’s about responding the call we have each received from God.

Furthermore, I often say the greatest thing about being a priest is that I get to meet so many people from all over the world, from so many different backgrounds etc. So how am I supposed to choose?

Lastly, I want to add that I think that this blog link up is a worthwhile exercise because sometimes we romanticize the saints to the point of missing the inspiring faithful right in front of us. No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have devotion to the saints, nor should we turn living people, sinners like us, into saints before it’s too soon. Rather, we can have a healthy awe for those who do their best, even if imperfect, to respond to their particular call from God.

After thinking too much with my brain, I realized the answer to all of the above questions was simply to trust my gut…check back later this week to find out who I chose and why. (Here’s a hint as to where I met this person).

Also be sure to check out these other great writers as they too contribute to the #HolyPeople celebration.

Feel free to join in and make sure you link back to Liz’s post.