A life of ministry includes seeing God in students, ex-offenders and the elderly
by Sister Francis Bangert
Following 20 years as an elementary school teacher, nine years as a pastoral associate, and many years in ministry to my Community as Novice Director and Director of Associates, I formally “retired” in 2009. In all of these ministries I experienced the presence of God working in the lives of beautiful, faith-filled people.
But it was volunteering at Wellspring: A Place of Peace for Women, our Community’s outreach to underprivileged women in our area, that my heart was deeply touched. Here, too, I met beautiful and faith-filled people. Many lived below the poverty level, some had mental illness, some were estranged from their families, some were ex-offenders. All of them were hurting. While I was a woman of privilege in many ways, I felt called to learn some of life’s deeper lessons from them.
Living out of poverty
After training in prison ministry, I met women (and later men) who had had brushes with the law for having made bad choices. I volunteered at a home for female ex-offenders who were in recovery. It was here that I found the face of God in a different way. Being in recovery meant facing daily the brutal reality that there was something controlling their lives (i.e. alcohol, drugs, sexual encounters) and that they were powerless over it. They were not living out of their successes, their wealth, their prestige; they were living out of their poverty with a tremendous dose of humility, praising God for being their salvation.
Saved from myself
Their search for authenticity was and is a challenge for me to this day. Like their addictions, I, too, hide behind my mask, the mask of perfectionism, pretending to be who I am not. My friends have taught me the freedom that comes with removing the mask, living out of my true self, a loved sinner. In those who live on the margins of society, I have found the face of God. With them, I praise the Holy One for saving me from myself.
I am living in the autumn of my life. It’s a time to step out of the fast lane with its schedules, meetings, with every moment accounted for on my calendar. It’s a time to slow down, to enjoy the dawn and dusk of a new day, to learn new things, to enjoy friends, to be inspired by reading and movies and music and art, to be grateful for the past, to pray for healing where needed, to ponder what’s next with a trusted friend, to wonder where I still need to meet the face of God.
The Blessing Prayer
“Just to be is a blessing:
just to live is holy.”
These words hang in the room of my 91-year-old dear friend, Nancy. She was a successful social worker, starting the school social work program in Green Bay to help kids who were having problems in school. She and a friend traveled the U.S. on their motorcycles in their younger days. She was intelligent, creative, funny, yet serious about her relationship with her Maker, rising early each morning to engage in an hour of prayer.
Pursuing perfect peace
In 2013 while beginning to have memory issues, Nancy suffered from a severe stroke, impairing her cognitive skills and her ability to receive and share information. She communicates with her eyes. She receives total care, suffers now from severe memory loss, has special pureed diets, relies totally on others for her care. Even in this very vulnerable state, Nancy is pleasant, smiling, affectionate, attentive to anyone having a bad day. She is a favorite among residents and staff. She is perfect peace. She is living the Blessing Prayer.
So when I consider “being” over “doing” I see that Nancy has achieved that, living one day at a time, grateful for the moment, cheerful, at peace with self and others, seeing the goodness in all. Since my second knee replacement, I have chosen to step off the fast track for awhile, until my next “call” comes. Maybe it’s to live more deeply ... just to BE is a blessing: just to LIVE is holy.