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Editor: Joanie Sutherland has had a longtime involvement with La Salette and is presently a parishioner of Our Lady of the Cape Parish in Brewster Massachusetts. She graciously shared her faith journey with several fellow parishioners on Sept. 10, 2018.

I have been blessed to have had so many spiritual opportunities to deepen my Christian faith in my life, having participated in retreats, workshops, trainings, conferences, seminars, missions, parish councils, committees, faith formation groups, international events, and Cursillo, but I have never been asked to share my faith through a witness talk, if you will, and I’m feeling lots of mixed emotions as I talk about my life journey with you. I trust God will help me through this and you will be forgiving listeners, too.

To provide a little backdrop perspective, I am the product of a large Christian Catholic family and I thank God –and my parents – for that. They provided a strong foundation. I participated in a CYO Drum & Bugle Corps at St. Mary’s Parish in Beverly, Massachusetts while in High School.

Learning to enjoy life with people of different faiths

untittled 1from left: Fr. William Kaliyadan, M.S., pastor of Our Lady of the Cape with Joanie Sutherland after her talkI went on to enjoy my young adult YMCA years working with youth and teens directing a YMCA-Church Basketball League for girls while coaching my Parish Team. It was an inter-faith youth league in the 70’s engaging Catholics, Protestants and members of the Jewish faith in organized programs serving over 250 teens from local faith communities. These were formative years for strengthening my faith and Christian work.

I dedicated my 40+ year career with the Y in both Beverly and on Cape Cod to the mission and values of the YMCA – that is, to put Christian principles into practice through programs and services that promote a healthy body, mind and spirit.

A Work in Progress

Well, while my body suffered the changes of advance years, my mind continues to be challenged, and my spirit is a continual work in progress given my own human faults and failures, joys and sorrows, challenges and sinfulness.

My life has changed over these years and I am now enjoying the fruits of my labors, having retired from my paid work. However God has called me to do more and still challenges me today in ways I could have never imagined. And this talk pushes me beyond and outside my comfort zone – but I know now that God will give me the courage to persevere.

Caring for my parent’s in their advancing years

untittled 2Joanie Sutherland (left) with Janet Leroux on the Holy Mountain, both from New England, USAMany of you may know that I am the primary caregiver for my aging parents who have lived downstairs in my home for the past 23 years. I’m not sure that this was one of my best decisions when I moved to this area. I became a member of our wonderful parish and perhaps all this was part of God’s greater plan, I guess.

I’m not getting any younger and neither are my parents at 91 and 94 with declining health and Alzheimer’s. The everyday demands and struggles are challenging, emotionally exhausting, and painfully misunderstood. The support of friends and family, the grace of God, and this greater faith community help me through these difficult emotions and raw moments.

After all isn’t that what we are called to do – despite our shortcomings – to take care of one another and especially our parents. Catholic guilt perhaps? But one thing is for sure, I have developed an enormous appreciation for the gifts and patience of caregivers and health care providers.

Unfortunately, their gifts and patience were not especially in my wheelhouse of God-given talents and gifts. But isn’t it true that it is through the grace of God and our faith that we can meet and endure these challenges of life?

For me personally, through two mountaintop experiences in my La Salette experiences, I have deepened my relationship with our Lord Jesus and his Holy Mother Mary. Let me explain.

La Salette Islands of Reconciliation

I was first introduced to the La Salettes in the mid 1980’s having attended Sunday Mass at the La Salette Shrine in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the North Shore of Boston. I seemed to need more from the message and the music from my local parish and was invited to join a colleague attending the Shrine Sunday Mass. I had the joy and privilege of meeting our Fr. John Dolan and Fr. Joe Bachand. The La Salette’s were so welcoming and open and the music ministry was so beautiful; it connected with me.

I made my Cursillo in the early 1990’s in Methuen, MA, and was spiritually moved by the Lord’s forgiveness and understanding through this experience. (De Colores to my fellow Cursillistas.) These were faith communities that deepened my spirituality and provided warmth and direction to my life and work.

The next chapter was in the mid 90’s having moved to the Cape and to this La Salette Parish of Our Lady of the Cape. I love this community of faith and the people I have come to know along the way. Goodness, kindness and generosity are gifts of the spirit – and this Parish and Faith Community live these virtues every day through various ministries.

Our Parish Twinning Program in Haiti

untittled 3Procession of La Salette Feast Day in La Salette Parish in HaitiI had the opportunity to join Fr. Bernie Baris, M.S., in February of 2012 for a week in Dessalines, Haiti, to experience how our Parish Twinning Program profoundly impacts the lives of children and families in the poorest country in the world. Through this outreach ministry, our Church provides water, food, education, clinics and chapels for those in need.

I will never forget the ugliness of this part of our world and thankfully will always remember the beautiful smiling faces of these resilient people with so little. It was truly a humbling experience of God’s work through you and the La Salette Missionaries. It was truly a grace-filled spiritual journey of hope… that helps keep me grounded with my seemingly insignificant life challenges at home.

The 2nd International Encounter of the La Salette Laity in France in 2016

untittled 42016 La Salette Laity Encounter Group with facilitatorsThe other mountaintop experience through this La Salette Parish happened in October of 2016. I joined two other La Salette Laity – one from Louisiana and the other from New Hampshire – to represent our Province for the 2nd International Encounter of the La Salette Laity on the Holy Mountain in France for a 10-day gathering on the Holy Mountain of the La Salette Apparition of the Blessed Mother of Mary.

The setting provided the backdrop for this learning environment and the most profound spiritual encounter of my life. Mary’s message to two unsuspecting young children resonated with me beyond words. “Go forth, my children, and make this known to all my people.” Her words speak to me – in that God can do great things with us if we only let the Lord and his Holy Mother lead us.

Understanding the message and mission of the La Salette Apparition and experiencing a visit to this Holy Mountain brings me back to a special place filled with light, peace, forgiveness, unity, and hope. Through this Lay Ministry Gathering we became brothers and sisters in Christ, friends – the La Salette Laity of a worldwide community representing twelve different countries and speaking seven languages.

untittled 5Fr. Hervé Bougeard, M.S., at cross on summit of Mt. GargasI even spent some time catching up with Fr. Bernie on this Holy Mountain and climbed to the pinnacle of nearby Mount Gargas, traversing the mountain along the rocky terrain for a four-hour climb despite my fear of heights. The hand of God carried me throughout this journey that challenged me both physically and emotionally and I was drawn to tears having overcome these hurdles.

I hugged this large wooden cross located on the crest of the mountain top for safety and rest, hydration and reflection for what seemed like eternity. I thank God for this extraordinary moment and asked the Lord and his Blessed Mother to help me with my challenges at home. One of the fellow delegates from India (no surprise) held my hand the entire trip down because I was so shaken by this experience.

Truly a mountaintop experience of feeling a sense of God’s kingdom in heaven – but while I’m still on earth! I thank God for this life-changing La Salette Ministry experience and encounter on this Holy Mountain with so many beautiful people from our worldwide La Salette Community of Laity and Religious.

My reflection preparation for this talk has given me the gift to take time to look more deeply at my life’s journey filled with blessings and brokenness – and how God has called me into a La Salette Laity life of Faith.

My closing prayer for all: “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle. Amen.”