Talk by Mrs Margaret Strangman at Mass, St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Charnwood, A.C.T., weekend 2-3 September, 2000. (This is a slightly longer version than actually delivered).
|The Catholic Church of St Thomas
Aquinas, Charnwood, A.C.T., Australia, was dedicated by
Archbishop Carroll, exactly eleven years ago today. The
first Sunday Mass in the Parish was celebrated in a house
in Flynn on 13 January 1974.
The Church was designed by Romaldo Giurgola, who also designed the new Parliament House building, following an international competition. This photo, taken in 1998 by our son Gregory, is a view of the east wall of which Romaldo wrote " ... the articulation of the high east wall, visible at a great distance along Ginninderra Drive, reveals on the exterior the places of the interior dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament, the altar and the baptismal font."
For those who haven't met us I am Margaret Strangman, and this is my husband Denis - spelt with one "N".
We're back! Isn't God wonderful.
We've been on a journey, and you - our parish family and friends - have been constant travelling companions.
Denis has been keeping everyone here and abroad up to date with our itinerary while I've been out celebrating "the joys of life", for God has blessed me with a deep and wonderful gift of faith, and I thank God for all his gifts to me.
Having being brought up in a large family with loving and Faith-filled parents and 12 siblings, I have always loved being a Catholic Christian, with an urge to pass on to others the joys I experience. This is why I'm standing before you now.
As we walk the road through life, I think it is helpful to often bear in mind the theme running through today's readings ..... "God's Word is Life." ....... This will sustain us in good times and in bad, while we bring the good news of hope, peace and salvation to all we meet along the way from conception to death, as we prepare for Eternal Life with God in Heaven.
On our journey, we often need to re-assess and re-evaluate the directions we are taking, continually adapting ourselves to the challenges of change, and perhaps to reconcile our lost hopes and dreams with God's dream for us now.
On 27th June, the direction of my life changed dramatically.
To where it was heading - I knew not.
Three grand mal seizures out of the blue put me in Calvary Hospital. The therapeutic level for the Dilantin I was on to control the seizures is 40-80 minimols per litre. My reading was 137 so I had become toxic to the medication that was supposed to be healing me.
Many of you would have observed that my balance was affected and I needed assistance with walking - due to the tremors.
In the weeks that followed I spent time in various Canberra Hospitals. After the first MRI scan and a visit to the Doctor, I was told "You have a serious problem". He was referring to a 2.7 cms lesion which he said was "most probably a tumour on the right temporal lobe of the brain".
A full-body MRI confirmed that the tumour in the brain was a primary. On Wednesday 16 August the tumour was haemorraghing and dying from inside. It was thought I would slip into a coma and not live through the night. But I got well enough for surgery the following day, to remove the tumour. By then it had doubled in size to 4 by 5 cms.
Last week the neurosurgeon had difficult news to bring us. It was a glioblastoma multoforme grade 4 - an aggressive, malignant tumour - gbm 4 - and the prognosis, "months" rather than years.
Two years ago, when - as a Parish participant in the Archdiocesan Christian Leadership Program - one of our assignments was to create a Liturgy of the Word for future Parishes without a resident Priest, I worked on quite an imaginative Liturgy. It was set at the Canberra racecourse with 125,000 of the lay faithful, while Pope John Paul II gathered together all the priests of Australia for a 30 days retreat at Ularu in preparation for the Cannonisation of Australia's first saint - Mary MacKillop.
I've adapted this Liturgy with some help from last year's Parish Renewal Team, for my "Celebration of Life". I suggest it might be a valuable exercise for all the small prayer/faith-sharing groups in the Parish to create an imaginative liturgy for their own "Celebration of Life" service.
During the time spent in the various hospitals, I was nourished and sustained on my spiritual journey by Jesus in the Eucharist brought to me daily by members of the Pastoral Care Teams.
In our busy daily life it is important to keep in touch with God through prayer. Some people prefer to go "to a desert place". I prefer to go for a quiet walk with God in "the garden of life".
When we went to Ireland in 1998 there was this gem in the Dunlavin, Co Wicklow, Parish Bulletin, which I find helpful. You might like it too:
"The fruit of silence is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace".
Lately, fragments of my life's journey have been revisited. Memories have been stirred, and images created, gathering the past, present and future.
In 1986 when Gregory, our fifth child, was eleven weeks old, I was in a position of trying to live literally as though each day was my last, for I became seriously ill with a heart condition known as post-partum cardiomyopathy, or heart failure. I was being assessed for a heart transplant.
Through your prayers and support I got better without needing surgery. The following year, 1987, I had a cardiac arrest, after a hysterectomy which I had originally been told to have after our second child, Kieran, was born. Due to a deep-vein thrombosis and some other complications, the Doctor told me: "You would be wise to have it out now, you're no spring chicken". I was 31. If we took notice of him, we wouldn't be sharing the joys of life with our 3rd, 4th and 5th darlings.
On each of the two illnesses, one of the hardest things for me, was to accept help in the house. Our Parish family wanted to show their love and support, and for me to love them in return, I had to learn to accept their offers of help graciously. They couldn't give, unless I was humble enough to receive.
Once again, in my present illness, you have prayed for and supported myself and my family with meals and numerous acts of kindness. The collection you took up after Mass a few weeks ago to get me flowers etc is much appreciated, and the satin pyjamas are gorgeous. Thank you. I'd love to reply to each of you personally for the many dozens of cards, e-mails, messages, etc but I think my prayers are probably more valuable.
We are going to Melbourne for a few days to see the family before I start 30 radiation treatments from 19th September. After that we'll have to get together again in our place. We've got some celebrating to do!
Human life is precious, so, in our society where the dignity and sacredness of life have been devalued, and instant gratification is the norm, it is little wonder that many people find it difficult to handle life with suffering and death.
Many people today have been unwittingly taken in by cliches, such as "harm minimisation", or "dying with dignity", when their loved ones may be feeling confused, disoriented and vulnerable, through the pain of whatever crisis they may be presently experiencing.
As Christians we can experience the grace of deliverance, the gift of being empowered to live a new and better life. So, instead of speaking of "Dying with Dignity", I prefer to speak in terms of "living with dignity while dying".
Pope John Paul II said by embracing the suffering Jesus in our daily trials, we are immediately united with the Risen Lord and His strengthening power.
Keeping in mind Jesus' words in John 10, 10: "I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full" - and during these last few months of Jubilee 2000 and beyond - let us continue to make St Thomas Aquinas, Charnwood, a Parish that is vibrant, alive, warm, and welcoming, as we live each moment in love and unity, sharing active responsibility for the faith we profess through Baptism, so that the Word who is Life, lives in us too.
[After Marg gave this talk and it was uploaded, she regretted not having mentioned that our Parish is what it is because of the leadership and guidance of our Parish Priest, Rev Fr Neville Drinkwater, over the past 26 years.]
Return to Marg's journey.