The Gospel of Joan Dillon

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In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.”  (Pope Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens, 1971: 23)

In last week’s Scripture/Liturgy Corner, Deacon Charles Broderick outlined the T3’s of stewardship; time, talent, and treasure, and how it is our responsibility as Christians to take the gifts loaned to us and use them to build up God’s Kingdom, similar to the widow in today’s gospel from Mark who gave to the treasury two pieces of copper, the equivalent of one penny.   “All that she had.”   After watching wealthy scribes submit large donations, Jesus saw the widow put all that she had into the treasury, recognized the depth of her faith, and pointed her action out to his disciples. He presented her as an example of someone whose trust in God was greater than her fear of material poverty.

I am privileged to have known a woman just like that.  In the early 1990’s I attended St. Francis Xavier University, and during my four years there I was involved with an outreach program working with First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities in Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties.  X-Project was the name of the group, and the soul of the group was a woman named Joan Dillon, who worked with others to start the program in response to a racist 1965 culture.

Each year, X-Project drew together hundreds of University students, children, youth and community members to work against racism and social inequality.  Over the years, Joan mentored thousands of people from all imaginable backgrounds, reminding every single one of us about who we were and what we needed to be to one another.  She lived humbly.  She gave everything she had to everyone she knew.  Being a friend to Joan meant knowing never to admire anything she owned, because it would quickly be given to you as a gift.   She embraced those on the margins.   She proclaimed Good News with her life.   Today, Joan lives with a terminal illness, and X-Project still works at empowering young people in the communities it works with.

Joan’s compassion for those in her life was radical, and I think of it something like this:  When people gather together to share a meal, it is considered polite to wait until everyone has been served before any one person begins to eat.   However, recognizing injustice, Joan applied this to her life, offering all that she had in order that we all might be better off.

Theologian Fredrick Buechner describes the meaning of compassion in these words:  “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

Peace, Joy, and Love to you, Joan.

~Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development for the Archdiocese of Moncton

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