How do we know if we are being called to liturgical ministries?
“Nobody should just come to church; we have to be the church.” This is a simple, yet profound statement from St. Anthony parishioner Marie Ochsner.
Marie has been a member at St. Anthony for almost four years and spends six months of the year here and the other six in Ohio. Marie shares with us some background to her becoming involved in several ministries in our parish.
The eldest of eight, Marie was raised in a home deserted by their father, by a single mother who was devout in her faith. Involved in parish life from a young age, Marie and her siblings participated in the Children’s Choir at church and had a strong dedication to daily prayer led by their mother. By the time she was a junior in high school, Marie was helping the catechist for second graders with teaching children the hymns for their First Communion. The catechist’s daughter was an aspirant with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Chardon, Ohio.
Since money was scarce in their household, Marie’s family was often assisted by the Saint Vincent De Paul Society (SVP), and when Marie was in 8th Grade, SVP offered scholarships to those interested in attending Catholic high school. Marie was accepted and at high school was exposed again to the Sisters of Notre Dame and this piqued her curiosity about religious life. Consultations followed with the parish priest who knew their family well, and Marie herself became an aspirant with the Sisters of Notre Dame during her junior year of high school. This aspirancy was short lived however as Marie became extremely ill and had to go home. Despite hospitalization and investigation, no cause was ever found for her illness and Marie returned to her high school.
“God intervened. It was God’s decision that I was not going to be a nun,” Marie said. Although she had been very happy as an aspirant, and the Sisters told her she was welcome back any time, Marie said she didn’t feel the call as strongly.
After she graduated high school, Marie joined the army, and continued to faithfully attend mass. Marie got married and after her third child was born, the Church began to accept women as readers during mass which she was interested in doing. After signing up and going through the training Marie became a reader at her parish.
“I found I got so much more out of the community, the family of the church because I was doing something physical to help celebrate the Mass,” Marie said.
Sadly, Marie’s life took an unexpected turn when her husband left her.
“I was really desperate and it was the priest and the church family who supported and encouraged me and made me feel that I was really worth something. You get into a desperate place when you are abandoned like that… Unfortunately I did end up getting divorced, but had a great priest take me to the tribunal and through the annulment which was granted on February 14th.” Marie recalls that this was one of many ironic events in her life that she now reflects on as the providence of God.
Marie continued to raise her family, who were in Catholic school, taking the same approach her mother did in encouraging her children’s faith. She did whatever it took to help with tuition from volunteering at school to cleaning the church.
“Then life got very busy and I went through a period of about a year and a half where I fell back and didn’t get involved (in church) anymore – I thought maybe there isn’t anything to this and eventually stopped going to mass. It didn’t seem to change my life much at first. But as the time went on there was a hole, this unfilled place.” Marie tried to brush this off as elements missing from the secular world thinking maybe she needed a relationship? She tried dating but that hole wasn’t filled, she only felt even further away.
Marie then met her current husband in the army reserves. He was Lutheran but wasn’t practicing his faith; she was Catholic and wasn’t practicing hers. They fell in love and wanted to get married. Marie only ever imagined getting married in a church – but at this point felt so far removed from her church that she was afraid to go back. She thought “How do I go back? If I wanted to, how could I possibly do it?”
Marie and her husband got married in a Lutheran church. They attended Lutheran services and Marie saw that the Lutheran worship service was not hugely different from a mass – but she knew there was still something missing. Marie recognizes now of course that it was the Eucharist that was missing.
The first Lent following her marriage in the Lutheran Church, Marie happened to go to mass on Ash Wednesday on her way to work. “There the epiphany came to me. ‘This is home! This is where my family is. This is where I need to be. I felt joy! The sensations and feelings I can remember and the peace was so astounding that I went home and told my husband I have to go back to the Catholic Church.” He told her that was fine – she should go back. She explained to him knowing the teachings of the Catholic Church, that for her to go back – things had to change.
Marie talked to a priest about her desire to come back into full communion with the Catholic Church. The priest told her to bring her husband in to meet him and that as long as her husband didn’t have any issues with her practicing her faith, they could have their marriage blessed and all would be fine. With their marriage blessed, Marie and her husband attended mass each week, and attended his Lutheran church service also.
Marie volunteered once again as a reader in her parish. “I was involved reading for some time – but there was more niggling at me. Life got so busy that I started missing that joy again and I just knew there was more I should do – just a feeling within me. That was God calling me and I was not paying attention. It’s just a knowing within you that there’s more. You think that it’s out in the world but it’s not and it took a long time for me to figure that out,” Marie said.
Marie later had three chance encounters with Sisters of Notre Dame, two in Florida and one in Ohio. All three gave her details of the Associates of the Sisters of Notre Dame when they learned that she had once been an aspirant. By the third time, Marie recognized that God kept putting this in her path. She contacted the Florida based Sisters and began her discernment. She is now an Associate of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Naturally, Marie’s prayer life deepened through this association, and through the introduction to praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This introduction came from another St. Anthony Parishioner, Nancy Mitchell whom Marie met while receiving Ministry to the Sick visits following knee surgery. Marie became fast friends with Nancy who coincidentally turned out to be a neighbor!
Nancy suggested that Marie become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) but Marie initially dismissed this thinking herself unworthy to touch the body and blood of Christ. Perhaps Nancy saw something in Marie that she didn’t see in herself because she encouraged her. With that seed planted, Marie found herself watching the EMHCs at mass.
“I’d look at their faces and many of them, when you look at them, their face changes (when serving communion.) It’s like all of a sudden they put on a different outfit, a different body and they are now an advocate,” Marie explained. Marie sensed peacefulness about the EMHCs and saw their expression of God’s love and thought: “Am I like that when I meet somebody? Do they see that because that’s what they should see – they should see God’s love from all of us - that’s what we’re here for.”
Marie continued to investigate the Liturgy of the Hours, learning how to pray it and over two years later continues to start and end each day with those prayers.
After prayer and consideration, Marie went through the requisite formation and training and is now an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at St. Anthony. She recently became part of the Ministry to the Sick team, taking communion to our parishioners in hospital.
“I feel honored and grateful that God chose this ministry for me and I can bring Jesus in that form to people who can’t come to him.” Marie adds that she feels the presence of the Holy Spirit guiding her as she participates in ministries: “It’s not about me – it’s about God – I’m just a vessel.”
Marie is also facilitating The Great Adventure Bible Study at St. Anthony on Tuesday mornings. She along with fellow parishioners are studying and learning more about God’s word.
“The more that I read and learned, and the more of the gift of understanding that the Holy Spirit gave me – the more responsibility I had to make sure that others know that love of God. It’s all about God’s love.” Marie said.
Marie advises anyone currently trying to discern if they are being called to serve in a liturgical ministry to pray first.
“Talk to God. We need to have that personal relationship with Jesus. Pray and then talk to someone in the ministry (that you’re interested in.) Discernment is really living, not just thinking, reading, and wondering. My advice is that if someone thinks they should do it – the probably should. We are all part of a family and family members need to be active.”