Becoming a Healing Presence
Al Rossi and I can’t recall exactly how I became his and his wife Gay’s spiritual father and confessor. It happened when Gay was diagnosed with breast cancer that soon metastasized into bone cancer.
I had seen the Rossi family many times at liturgical services and other events at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, but my wife and I had not come to know them more than casually. I was serving a church in New York City around that time, and was also often away from the school, especially on weekends, attending to other duties.
It also happened about this same time that I was in charge of a retreat for young people at the seminary. Al had been invited to lead several sessions. At one of them he had the ¬participants answer some questions and do certain exercises about their extended families, their childhood, their upbringing, their experience in the Church, their favorite films, books, music, etc. They did this in writing, just for themselves, to serve as a springboard to their discussions. They were not obliged to share with Al what they had written.
Being at the retreat, I decided to do what Al asked the participants to do. When I thanked Al at the end of the day for his good work, which I saw had a powerful impact on the young people, I handed him what I had written. “Have a look at this,” I asked him, “and, tell me what you think.”
A few days later, I met Al on the seminary campus. He told me that he’d read what I wrote and thought it would be helpful for us to talk about it, adding with a tantalizing smile, “but this time on my turf.” I eagerly agreed and began visiting Al at his office once a week. Our regularly scheduled meetings went on for more than a year. Since then we have continued to meet, speak, work, and pray together in countless ways. We were each in dire need of what the other had to offer, and still are. And so was Gay. But little did we know at the time how much the two of us needed her, and still do, in our spiritual lives.
The compelling tasks facing us from the beginning of our work together were Al and Gay’s marriage and Gay’s struggle with excruciatingly painful bone cancer. Their family life was in dreadful condition. Gay was indescribably angry and unhappy, and so, in turn, was Al. Their kids were caught in the middle of it. Their history, individually and together, was the most complicated and painful story I ever encountered. It was also, for me at that time, the most incredible. I had virtually no understanding of almost anything that either of them had been through from their childhood and youth and life together, both before and after they found themselves a married couple with two beautiful children in the Orthodox Church—which situation, despite its many graces and joys, was itself hardly an easy, smooth, or painless experience.
The one thing that bound Al and me together in the most intimate spiritual communion was our devotion to God’s Gospel in Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Church’s Scriptures and offered by God’s grace to our living experience (fragile, flawed, and sinful though we be) by Christ and the Holy Spirit in the liturgical worship, sacramental life, doctrinal teachings, and spiritual counsels of the saints of the Orthodox Church.
Gay Rossi’s agonizing journey, and ours with her, by which we were purified and illumined by God’s grace, was in every way a perfect example of the truth of the psalmist’s exclamations: “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep Thy Word. . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes. . . . If Thy law had not been my delight, I should have perished in my afflictions. I will never forget Thy precepts, for by them Thou hast given me life. I am Thine, save me!” (Psalm 119:67, 72, 92–94).
This book, Becoming a Healing Presence, tells a vivid story of going into one’s heart to find Christ, and then going out from one’s heart to allow Christ to heal others through us. I am grateful to have been part of the healing of Gay Rossi and the subsequent impact her healing had on Al and the writing of this little book. As Gay was progressively being cleansed, illumined, and saved by God’s grace through what she was suffering in flesh and spirit, she began to say, “I’m determined to die healthy.” Because she achieved her goal by the Lord’s power, she and Al became the healing presence they now are for those desiring to be healed who are ready to count the cost and pay the price for this precious gift of God in His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the Church. In our last conversation before she died, I asked Gay the most important questions. “Gay,” I asked, “What do you now say about God?”
She replied simply, “I worship God.”
And I went on, “And why do you do so?”
She responded, again so simply, “Because I have come to know love.”
I then said to her, “And what about Al?”
Her answer was firm and clear: “I see Al veiled in light.”
I was present when Gay fell asleep in the Lord. She was breathing laboriously, as dying people do. We were reading psalms. Or simply standing in silence. Sometimes someone said a few words. Then, without warning, I suddenly began to cry. This was not at all like me, as those who knew me then would surely testify. Shortly after I stopped weeping, which took some time, Gay breathed her last and gave her life to God.
Later Al said to me in regard to this unexpected incident at her deathbed, “You know, Father Tom, I just bet that Gay decided not to die until you wept.”
I responded, “You know, Al, it would be just like her to do so.”
I drove home from the hospital after Gay’s death listening to Nana Mouskouri singing that it is only love that changes everything. How true this is! Yet we must all come to know by experience what, or more precisely, who, this Love is. Al and his Gay help us here to do so. How grateful we should be to them, and to our Lord, for the invaluable gift of this little book.
Please note: It is strongly recommended to discuss spiritual literature with your father confessor, or spiritual father or mother.