TRUMBULL— “Suffering that is not transformed is transmitted,” Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, said several times last night in her reflection on “Decisive Encounter.”
In a powerful and deeply personal talk to inaugurate the new Bishop’s Lecture Series sponsored by the diocesan Leadership Institute, Sister Miriam said that all people are “broken,” but our of their suffering and sense of shame, they can find that God loves them and is always near.
“He meets us on our own road to Emmaus,” she said to a gathering of more than 60 young adults including other women religious.
“God is always calling us to a deeper encounter,” said Sister Miriam, who now lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, but grew up in Washington State and was a scholarship athlete at the University of Nevada-Reno.
In discussing the Road to Emmaus, Sister Miriam said that the apostles are “walking in the wrong direction” and don’t recognize Jesus when they encounter him on the road.
Like most people they fail to see God in their own lives, but he accompanies them until they understand.
As she began her talk, she promised it would not be a lecture but an invitation to walk with her and together “encounter one who loves you, and that’s where beauty transformation takes place.”
In her hour-length reflection, which ended with a deeply felt prayer, she shared elements of her life as an unhappy daughter in a troubled relationship with her mother, a college volleyball player, and a young woman who wanted so much more out of life than success or business as usual.
While sharing her personal feelings, she gave a glimpse into her own spiritual autobiography that brought her from suffering to faith.
She said that many people become physically, emotionally and spiritually ill because of their inability to forgive.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean dismissing the profound hurt that another person may have caused or “letting them off the hook,” she said
“To release our grasp upon a person is to chose to ask God to bless them and take care of them. It requires the Grace of God, ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do.’ I didn’t know that for a long time,” she said.
Sister Miriam attributes her vocation to a priest who became a “spiritual father to her” when she was lost and in need of healing.
She said she entered the convent in 1988 at after experiencing a sense of God’s love that profoundly changed her life. The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) is a missionary community that serves global areas of deepest apostolic need
Quoting Bishop Robert Barron, she said “The desire for God is written in the human heart because God never eases to draw man to himself. Only in God can he find the truth and happiness for which he never stops searching.”
“I thought when I entered the convent that everything would be alright, just as brides think when they marry,” she said drawing laughter. But her road to healing and forgiveness has been an ongoing process that has evolved over the 19 years she has been a nun.
Half way through her talk, she told those gathered to hear her that she had struggled with alcoholism as a young adult and continues to participate in a 12-step program.
But the focus of her talk was not psychological or self-help, it was about the power of God to meet us on the road.
“Pope Francis said preaching the gospel of joy is tough when our lives are surrounded in fear. Joy is not Christ coming to modify our behavior. It’s not a reform school or behavioral modification. Christianity is transformation into glory. We’re completely changed and transformed, radiant in His love,” she said.
She said that the transformation requires an encounter from the heart, not simply going through the motions of faith.
“The heart is the dwelling place where we live. It’s hidden center is beyond the grasp of others. Only God comprehends,” she said.
In a brief question and answer session following her talk, Sister Miriam said is was important for youth ministers to “meet people where they are” on their own road to Emmaus.
“No one wants to be a project to be fixed. They want to be loved as people,” she said.
When asked about the one book that changed her life other than the Bible, Sister Miriam, responded, “Be Healed” by Dr. Bob Schuchts, a book about “how we get stuck” and the power of encounter with God to free us.
Bishop Frank Caggiano thanked Sister Miriam for launching the new Bishop’s Lecture Series.
“Rarely have I heard a more authentic, genuine reflection of what faith is than what you gave us tonight. It feels like a retreat,” the Bishop said. “You alluded to St. Thomas and the different ways to experience God through truth, goodness and beauty, and tonight you shared the truth with us in a beautiful way, and you have helped us all to encounter the Lord.”
For more information on the Leadership Institute programs, visit www.formationreimagined.org or call 203.416.1670.
Photos by Amy Mortensen