It is our practice to offer commentary on the Sunday readings as they tie into the mission of service and spiritual formation embraced by Ignatians West volunteers. Today we also share the service of Mary Ann Bognar, a long-time volunteer . . .
“Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”
“I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.” Sound familiar? Sleep, or the lack of it, has been a point of many conversations lately. These words, however, are not from a friend or a family member. They were written before the 16th century BCE by Job, author of today’s first reading in which he also says, “…I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” Job wrote the truth about his life. At one point he was on top of the mountain with a beautiful family, great business and plenty of money that allowed him to live well and care for people in need. Then disaster after disaster hit and he was a man devastated by loss.
Job, c. 1620, Jacob Jordaens, Detroit Institute of Arts
Given what the world has experienced over the past year, Job’s story, though written in ancient times, is a modern story. Loss on various levels, from the loss of loved ones, to the loss of employment leading to the loss of a home is a common story today. It does not matter if the loved lost was old or young, just as it does not matter if the home lost is a large, sprawling dwelling or an apartment; the loss is significant. The resulting grief, insecurity and confusion are real. Job’s story is long and complicated. He is beset with suffering, physical and emotional, yet in the end, despite questioning God, he does not turn away from God. He believes, “the Lord…heals the brokenhearted.” It invites each of us to ponder what we believe in when faced with heartbreaking moments.
The Healing of the Mother-in-Law of Saint Peter, late 1650s, Rembrandt van Rijn, Fondation Custodia
In today’s gospel we meet Peter’s mother-in-law. She is mentioned only once and is not called by name. I have always bristled when reading this story as the woman was seriously ill with a high fever. Understandably, her family was concerned and sought Jesus to ask for help. He came to their home, “grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her, and she waited on them.” The fact that she got up from her sick bed to wait on Jesus and his friends always struck me as odd. The woman was sick. Shouldn’t they be waiting on her? Not long ago I discovered an explanation that changed my mind. She got up, cured, to serve Jesus and her family because she was thankful and jubilant to be well. Her desire to serve was born out of love and gratitude.
The Ignatians West program is designed so mature adults can assist and walk with people who face heartbreak and loss. It is a program based on service to others and celebrates the joy that service brings. In this new year if you are looking for a change in your life please email or call us for more information on becoming a volunteer.
Ignatians West Volunteer Stories
Mary Ann Bognar
I worked as a volunteer in the Spiritual Care Department at St. John’s Hospital for several years bringing Holy Communion and visiting patients. When the Pandemic was identified, it became necessary for me to leave that very uplifting work. Yet, being an Ignatians West volunteer meant a lot to me and was a wonderful way to deepen my connection to God and to my Spiritual Community among the volunteers I knew. I wanted to keep volunteering, and it seemed impossible when I was isolated completely at home with my husband and could not go out.
Finally, Anne Hansen called me, having heard about a family of immigrants who needed a tutor for their fifth grader. At that time the family had only been in the country for 14 months, and the pandemic caused the child to have to go to school remotely. I made calls and looked into what was needed. Of course, the tutoring had to be on Zoom and not in person at all. There were no text books and all content was digital. I did not know one word of the child’s native language. I had been a teacher for 42 years before I retired so I thought, “I can teach whatever is needed. How hard could teaching reading on Zoom be?” I connected with the family and agreed to help the child who spoke some English, but who had trouble reading and understanding what she needed to read.
I quickly learned the answer to “How hard can teaching reading on Zoom be?” There were many adjustments I learned to make over the months, but my student is very enthusiastic and upbeat. She is a whiz at the technology and so our growing relationship has had a lot of give and take. I have had the opportunity not only to teach her 2 evenings per week, but to talk with her dad and collaborate a bit with her on-line teacher. This experience has made me grateful for the years that I taught and the skills I gained from my career, because this student is being helped by all those prior experiences that God put in my life. Her reading is much more fluent now and her vocabulary and even spelling skills are improving also. She has gained so much confidence and feels more empowered to interact with other students and her teacher online.
The fruits of this volunteer opportunity are many. I have gotten to know well a student from another part of the world and learn something about her culture and customs. I have come to appreciate how much relationships enhance and, indeed, are essential to the teaching/learning experiences. I have seen how her improving language skills lead her to a deeper sense of accomplishment and self-worth. I feel so deeply that God has made my teaching possible, has brought me together with this child, and is continually blessing both of us with successes and struggles. We do not talk about religion, and many things about us are very different. However, I can’t help but think that forging this relationship will help her to appreciate the gifts of both cultures. I have deepened my understanding of the difficulties faced by immigrants, especially when they encounter school systems. I’m sure these times that we work together will help each of us to grow and will afford each of us future opportunities to help build up God’s Kingdom in whatever way God calls us.