Reflections - By Chaplain Paul Xander

Editor’s Note: It is with profound sadness we report the sudden passing of Chaplain Paul on April 21, 2018. A beloved spiritual leader and counselor to many of Good Shepherd’s long-term residents and colleagues, Chaplain Paul briefly returned to work after an extended illness last winter and wrote this, his final column. His words are a moving testament to his Christian faith and hope that sustained him during a difficult time in his life. (See In Memoriam)

As I write this column, the temperature outside struggles toward 15 degrees during a prolonged cold snap that makes me yearn for spring. But the sunshine flows through the sliding glass doors at one end of our living room and I am grateful to be home after a prolonged hospital stay of 41 days.

The day after arriving home, Kelly Brooks, associate chaplain and colleague, emailed me asking if I felt well enough to write this issue’s Reflections. It was my turn after all. I realized that what Chaplain Kelly was doing was inviting me to participate in the calling to which I had responded with a “yes” decades ago. The invitation carried with it the opportunity to return to my life at Good Shepherd in a way that would foster the healing I needed physically, emotionally and
spiritually.

During the early part of my hospital stay there is a portion of time, perhaps a week, of which I have no total recollection. Some who were with me during that time have said it was God’s abiding presence that brought me through it. I, in the meantime, have been able to reach out to family members and those with a deep and abiding faith relationship with me to experience ongoing physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

Mary the mother of Jesus has been one of those in my family of faith, and it is in her story I find echoes of my own faith journey. The gospel of Luke portrays Mary as an active, faithful, thoughtful person. When the angel Gabriel asked her to accept a radical transformation of her life to serve the purposes of God, she said, “yes.” She embraced God’s unexpected plan for her life.

My longtime friend and spiritual director is a Jesuit priest. He and I have spoken often about Mary, not as a hard stone statue or admired memorial, but rather as part of the cloud of witnesses that guides us on our faith journey because of her faith journey. The point about Mary wasn’t that she was larger than life, or that she was a virgin, or that she was free from the stain of original sin. The point is that Mary’s “yes” to Gabriel was, above all else, the response that Jesus wanted from his disciples and that God wanted from believers. “Come and see,” Jesus said, go out and serve, stay awake a little while, don’t be afraid, make disciples; each of those a command that required a “yes.”

I am convinced that Mary, the mother of our Lord, a woman who was tough and resilient, was guiding me on my medical odyssey through a time I still cannot recollect and toward a time of healing. It was she who brought me to the healing heart of Jesus in which all healing can flourish. She came into my life at that dark moment as I am convinced she comes into the dark places of many lives, to be and give birth to the promise of new life, light, and peace.

I will continue to reach out to family members and those with a deep and abiding faith relationship with me to experience healing in all its fullness. How comforting it is to know that Mary has been and always will be in that family of faith for me and for you. All we have to say is “yes.”