Ireland: “God uses everything to reawaken me”

The word expectation has resonated in Hilda’s life since she was a child. “Getting married, having my children, meeting the movement…What more could I want? And yet this sense of expectation remained." And faced with Covid, everything came to a head…

My experience of the pandemic has been a very rich one, painful but rich. A novelty that “breaks your bones and enters into your blood”, as Grossman said. But I would not swap what I have learnt for the world. In response to Carrón’s question, “Is There Hope?”, I cannot answer that without referring to my experience of expectation. The word “expectation” has been something very real for me since I was around 7 or 8 years of age. I had a great-aunt who was a nun who worked in Nigeria for over fifty years. She used to come and visit us every few years. I remember asking her if she experienced this overpowering sense of expectation. She told me not to feel this way, that I was not special… I knew she had not grasped what I meant. And I figured that if she did not know how to reply, nobody would!

But as the years rolled on, this question did not leave me. And every time something significant happened in my life I would ask myself: “Maybe this is it?” Getting married, having my children, meeting the movement…What more could I want? And yet this sense of expectation remained. Six years ago, and our family went through a significantly difficult period: ill health, deaths in the family, unemployment… And my eldest boy got himself into a lot of difficulties and had to, for his own good, move away from the family unit – even though it was the most difficult thing I ever had to do as a mother.

I began to realise at that time that the charism, if taken seriously, really awakens you and it makes belonging to Christ easier. At that time, in School of Community, we were reading about the sacraments. I went to mass on Sunday, but certainly not every day. But I decided to go very regularly to confession. As Giussani says, the first step on a truly human journey is the concern for our I. But I thought that God would fix the things that I was uncomfortable with about my own humanity. In fact, what happened over the months is that instead of the Lord ‘fixing me’, He made me more myself. Those flaws were in fact a gift. But this sense of expectation remained. When the Lord steps into your life in a dramatic way like that, He asks more of you.

In March 2020, I contracted Covid and I never felt so sick in my life. When my doctor told me to watch out for day twelve, I laughed thinking I will get over this in a week… As day twelve arrived, I took a turn for the worse. My illness went on for weeks and it brought up an underlying heart condition. I was too sick to pray so I could only say His name. I did not want to waste this time, so I was praying for other people, worse off than me in hospital, but after 3 weeks I added myself to those prayers as my condition worsened. But I was not alone: my friends who accompanied me in this were the physical presence of the Lord.

As the weeks went on, I was faced with the possibility of my own mortality. I was really scared, but trusted that the Lord was with me. I remember thinking: “Ok, maybe I have to go on oxygen, but You will be there with me, Lord. Maybe I have to go on a ventilator and be put into a coma, but You will be there with me. What if I die? I will go to You, Lord, and I will finally get to meet You face to face.” I was still really scared, but there was a peace underneath it all.

I started to slowly recover over 6 weeks. I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. At home, with my children quarantining, whenever I looked at them I began to cry because I was so thankful to have them.

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Another experience of grace in this period was experienced by my husband, Sean. He is a volunteer with a local homeless charity and he was assigned to take care of a difficult individual who has historical drug and alcoholic abuse issues. My husband visits this man and his family on a weekly basis to distribute food and other items that are needed. The man is often not at home when my husband calls as he regularly leaves his family to go drinking or take drugs. My husband has developed a friendship with this individual and from the beginning has recognised something in the eyes of this individual which has drawn him to this man. Everyone else on the charity team criticises his behaviour and does not want anything to do with him.

In recent days, this man opened up to my husband and told him his childhood story with tears in his eyes – how he was physically and sexually assaulted as a young boy. Sean was struck by the man’s horrible childhood experience and by the fact that he said that he also knows that “God was on his side”. What did he see in my husband if not the action of Christ? And what did my husband see in that poor individual if not Christ? Sean now looks forward to the weekly meetings and always comes back changed.

Giussani speaks to us about the essence of the charism as enthusiasm and awe, that God was made man and is present in our companionship, within every circumstance. He uses everything to reawaken me. Today this has become an amazing adventure. And this has really answered my ponderings on this expectation that I feel deep within me because I realise now that it is there as a gift to keep me awake and alive. I pray to God that it will never go away.

Hilda, Dublin, Ireland