Mary Marrocco

Mary Marrocco

Dr. Mary Marrocco is an associate secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches. She is also a teacher, writer and lay pastoral worker. Her column, Questioning Faith, features topics about the teachings of our church, scriptures, the lives and writings of the saints and spiritual writers and theologians. She can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.

One of my great teachers was Helen. 

She was a tiny, elderly woman with a limp from a bad hip and swollen feet, with yellow curly hair and no teeth. She loved to greet strangers, bake muffins for people, help out at the breakfast club and the mission. She smiled and laughed easily. She was a chatterer, but her chattering was generally random and disconnected, hard to follow and easily dismissed.

She herself was among the easiest of people to dismiss: an old, poor, solitary woman, living on social assistance in a squalid apartment. Though a wife and mother of many, she was quite alone in the world; long separated from an abusive husband and from her children, taken away one-by-one by the Children’s Aid Society. When I met her, Helen had largely left the world of sanity — with good reason, as refuge from the world which, for her, was a crazy and dangerous place.

When Helen had a stroke and was taken to hospital, she must have seemed an insignificant patient. Mostly incomprehensible at the best of times, she was now completely so, unable to communicate, powerless. Soon, the health care system decided she, her suffering, her life, were unnecessary. When I visited her, she had no feeding tube and was being given nothing orally. Helen died in a large Catholic hospital in urban Canada.

In Belgium recently, someone unexpectedly crossed my path.

A theological conference in Leuven included a service at nearby St. Damien Church. Entering, I met a man, a fellow conference-goer I hadn’t met before, who said, “Come down to the crypt where St. Damien is.” I followed him down, paused with my hand on the doorknob, sensing that that door led to a life-changing encounter.

Some questions seem to be our companions for life. I used to think they would get answered and go away. Now I'm less surprised to hear people of 25, 35, 45, 75, asking what I'd thought was the proper concern of the 15-year-old: "What am I supposed to do with my life?"

After intensive soul-searching and searing heartache, a person I know has divorced. She aches for her children and for herself as a Catholic facing lonely solitude. A faithful person, she thought she was following the voice of love, both in getting married and in the way she tried to live her marriage. How could love have led her to divorce?

The church was in darkness when I came in, the Easter vigil just beginning. The paschal candle was lit. Its fire was passed around the church, until many tiny candles together became a mass of light. 
February 25, 2007

What is truth?

Myra was suffering profoundly. Some people blame themselves when life gets tough, taking everything inside. Some, like Myra, take everything outside, blaming everybody but themselves.

When Dave waved hello I thought, as usual, what a strong, friendly face he has. Today, those good looks were obscured by haggard gray gauntness, somewhat incongruous under the curly hair and jaunty boyish cap. He asked me how I was, flicked his cigarette, and nodded: "I'm OK. I'm back on drugs, but it's all good."

On a trip to France I had a weekend in Paris, which meant serious decisions about what to visit and what to leave out. After Notre Dame, I went to nearby Sainte Chapelle, advertised as having the best stained glass in the country. Stained glass was not a particular interest of mine, but the day was sunny and the destination close.
“I would die without the Trinity,” my friend Fr. Peter said once. How many of us would echo Fr. Peter? Does the Trinity make much difference to our lives or our faith?  Yet it’s one of our key doctrines, distinguishing Christianity from all world religions.   
How do you prepare for Christmas? One year, when I was working in parish ministry, we decided to hold an Advent retreat. Many parishioners were eager for such a time of reflection. We arranged it well in advance, made posters, booked rooms and soon had abundant pre-registered participants.