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Visitation moments

Janet Lawrence, CND

Recently, while reflecting in chapel on what the Visitation means to me I began to think of my years as a teenager where my mother would often invite friends or family for coffee and cake on a Friday. For some reason I began to giggle, since as a Jewish girl in a Jewish household, visiting was what we did. Sitting around the kitchen table sharing stories from the day, talking about this and that, these were visitation moments. For me these moments were essential building blocks on how to engage others in conversation. I would watch my mother, the way she would greet family and friends with kisses or a simple hug. She was a gracious host who always had the best cakes or cookies from the Jewish bakery.

The dictionary defines visitation as the action or an instance of visiting or an instance of being visited. In the Roman Catholic Church, the visit of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth is officially called the Visitation. I imagine you might be wondering why is a Jewish woman speaking of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth? Well in some inexplicable way I had my own visitation with God who called me to follow His Son. You can imagine the thoughts that went through my mind. Where as Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”(Luke 1:38). I was saying you must be kidding me? How could this be? I am a sinner, I am too old, I know very little about God, and most of all I am Jewish.” Oh wait, so was Mary.

Well, I must back peddle a bit to set the stage. My dear mother was visiting from Florida and we were having a wonderful time. However, two days before she and my father were to go home she became seriously ill and eventually died three weeks later. About three or four months later I had a dream and in that dream was my mother and in the right hand corner was Jesus. I took this as a sign that God was calling me to Himself. This was my first visitation. As a result of this visit, many conversations over 5 years, and a wonderful RCIA group I entered the Catholic Church in March 2005.

The second visitation occurred while I was at mass with my best friend after working the night shift at Greenwich Hospital. The reading for the day was one of the call stories and just as the Priest said the name of the Apostle I heard him say Janet. This also happened the next day. I thought I was imaging it since I was so tired but I knew I heard him say my name. I have often said that God has a wonderful sense of humor because first He calls me to become Catholic and if that was not enough, He was calling me to become a Sister. When I told my family they thought I was crazy. They still hadn’t gotten over the conversion and now this? I didn’t say it to them but part of me was saying the same thing. But after two years of Novitiate and six years of Temporary Profession as a Congregation of Notre Dame Sister I have never been happier.

As a CND I still see myself as my mother’s daughter at times. I love to visit people, especially those that are on the periphery. My current ministry is volunteering at Andrus on Hudson, which is a public nursing facility where 12 of our sisters live. My responsibility is to be with them, to help with their laundry, to take them to the doctor, and set up for mass. There are days where I might be Mary and the sister or another resident is Elizabeth or I might be Elizabeth and the resident is Mary. We bring the love of God to each other in different ways, sometimes through reminiscing, playing Bingo, or just by sitting quietly. These visits have been sacred and grace-filled in that they have helped me to deepen my love not only for God but also for Marguerite. As I listen to them say they have had a wonderful life, their face seems almost glowing. They are professed 60 years or more and still laugh at some of the old ways they used to do things. They sometimes call me sister instead of Janet, which at times brings the biggest smile to my face because they see me as one of them.

So, remember how I responded to God when He first called? I gave God every excuse in the book. However the next time he asked I said my Yes at my First Vows on July 16, 2011. This coming year I will be a resident hospital chaplain in NYC. This will be a year of many visitations where I will be able to bring LOVE and compassion to all those that I am called to be with. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior”(Luke 1:47). Shalom and Amen.

 

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