Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Moving Fences

At Mass this morning, Fr. Dave shared this wonderful story:

"Many years ago, there was a woman who lived in a small village in France. Trained as a nurse, she devoted her life to caring for the sick and needy. After many years of kind and selfless service to the village's families, the woman died.

She had no family of her own, so the townsfolk planned a beautiful funeral for her, a fitting tribute to the woman to whom so many owed their lives.

The parish priest, however, pointed out that, because she was a Protestant, she could not be buried in the town's Catholic cemetery. The villagers protested, but the priest held firm. It was not easy for the priest either, because he too had been cared for by the woman during a serious illness. But the law of the Church was very clear; she would have to be buried outside the fence of the cemetery. The day of the funeral arrived, and the whole village accompanied the woman's casket to the cemetery, where she was buried outside the fence. But that night, a group of villagers, armed with shovels, sneaked into the cemetery. They quietly set to work moving the fence." (source unknown)

"When Mass is over," he said, "we will leave this holy place, but then, like those villagers, it will be our job to spend the day moving fences, drawing every event of our day into the realm of God, seeing Him in all things. In this way, our entire day will become a prayer. In the words of St. Francis de Sales, 'For the best prayer is that which keeps us so occupied with God that we don't think about ourselves or what we are doing.'"

O Lord, sometimes it is so hard to move those fences, to see You in others and to see You in hardships and to build my fence around You so that You are never left out in the cold, away from my heart. I get so busy that I forget to turn to You, to think of You. Lord, at those moments when I am occupied with something other than You and Your presence in this amazing world that You created, send your angel to guide me in moving the fence so that you will always remain within the boundaries of my heart and every moment of my day will become a prayer. Amen.


  1. I feel a little nervous about this story, but maybe that's because my husband is a canon lawyer. I think the actions of the townspeople could be taken as rebellious against the authority of the Church. "Moving fences" could be interpreted by some to be a nod to those who are in favor of female ordination, for example. I love your blog, and I would welcome a further explanation of the story that I might be missing.

  2. Hi Beth,

    thanks for this thoughtful response! I too, felt that the parishioners moving the fence could be taken as an act against the church, but Fr. Dave's response to it made so much sense, that we are to follow the example in bringing God into our surroundings, into making everything holy with acknowledging his presence. I am in no way promoting or supporting female ordination, but I can see how you could get that from the story. Sorry for posting something that could be misleading.

  3. Anne, no, I didn't think you were promoting or supporting anything that was not doctrinally sound. It was merely an observation that perhaps Fr. Dave's story was not the best choice to demonstrate the point HE was trying to get across. It seems like he is saying that God's will might be different than the Church's will, that sometimes the laws of the Church "get in the way" of doing God's will. Thank you for clarifying what you believe he meant. I like your interpretation, but the story itself still doesn't sit well with me. Thank you for your beautiful insights regarding our role in bringing the presence of God into the world.

  4. I love this story.
    I have read a slightly different version (written by a priest). The person who died was a soldier who died in WWII and his army buddies asked a priest if they could bury him at the church. The priest explained that he had to be buried outside the fence. But he felt bad about that and when the soldiers came back to say goodbye to their buddy, they discovered the fence had been moved!
    I think this story has more to do with God's love for all His children and our need to remember that and to try to love like Jesus loves. Fences are put up by humans. I do not think there are any fences in heaven.
    Stories are meant to teach and to inspire. Each one of us will take something away that is unique to where we are and what we need. I love your take on it. And your prayer - oh, so beautiful!

  5. No fences in heaven-I like that Colleen! There have been too many times in my life where I have felt like an outsider-not welcome, not included.

    But to God, we are more than welcome and included, we are deeply loved! I hope to spend my life moving fences and helping everyone I see to feel that love of God.

  6. Dear Anne,
    I love this story too! Thanks so much for sharing it. Your blog is very special to me.

    Jesus has no fences-His arms were/are ready to include little children, the injured, the Samaritans, the synagogue-goers and the non-synagogue goers, the Jew and the non-Jew, and yes-the Catholic and the non-Catholic. And to the horror of the legalist Pharisees who made and followed 'all the rules' - He even blessed and accepted prostitutes and thieves, reaching out to them even in their last hour.

    We spend our lives searching for where we belong. And if the Bible is true, then I have found inclusion in God's Family through forgiveness in Christ-our Redeemer. I can join hands with you and you with me. Its that simple!

    The same virtues of healing and acceptance flow out of His throne room of Grace to us - we don't deserve His Grace and Acceptance - but its there in His Son Jesus.

    Personally, some of the greatest touches of God reaching out to me through man have been through a priest. In 2007, I spent time with Fr. Francis' parish prayer group and recieved healing and ministry. I never saw a fence, only 'hands of mercy'...His Hands reaching out to me in Love. I will never, ever forget that as long as I live!

    There was an interesting comment made by Fr. John Paul on the BBC programme 'Island Parish' (filmed on the Hebrides Islands)- When he was asked if he would grant final rites to a dying non-Catholic on the island he said, "..if my face were the last face they would see on this earth, then I hope in some way they would know the Love of God for them."

    I agree Anne, I too, hope to spend my life moving fences and helping all I meet to see the love of God expressed to them.

  7. Thank you so much for your sweet comment! You started my day with a smile, I would say you effectively moved a fence and showed me the love of God!

  8. When I read this story in my reader, I was quite moved. And then I kept scrolling down the page, but I realized I wanted to say thank you. I'm so glad I "clicked over" as I got to read all the comments -- which add a lively and thoughtful discussion and food for thought! Thanks to you, for posting, Anne, and thanks to you all!