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The simple solution to a breathlessly difficult problem: A conversion story

ELDERLY MAN

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Sr. Catherine Marie, O.P. - published on 10/21/21

Bob went from angry to reconciled, with the smallest of steps.

Some weeks ago, our community shared with you a beautiful story of a man’s conversion. His name was Bob. This month I have another man to talk about, also named Bob, but a very different conversion. In some ways, his story may be easier for us to relate to, because his road back to God was less prepossessing. There were no amazing stories of sudden growth in virtue, no visions of holiness. We saw very little of what God was doing.

When this Bob came to Rosary Hill, he had been away from the Church for 30 years. His sister was a religious sister in New York, and her grief was not only the diagnosis of cancer that her brother had, but that he was entrenched in his animosity for the Church. 

“Don’t you dare send that witch doctor in here!” He let us know from the start he wanted nothing to do with the Faith.

When he arrived, we notified the chaplain as we always do when a Catholic is admitted. But Bob would have none of that! “Don’t you dare send that witch doctor in here!” He let us know from the start he wanted nothing to do with the Faith. We do not force our beliefs upon our patients, but our Faith informs how we treat our patients. So, with a tough road ahead, we cared for this angry soul.

And he was so angry! Hardly a kind word ever passed his lips. He was full of his own prejudices, but also heaped his unkindness on all the staff and Sisters alike. Soon after his arrival, we knew when his call light sounded that whoever answered it was probably going to get an earful of complaint about heaven-only-knew-what. 

This went on for a few months, with the staff and Sisters trying their utmost to be patient with him. Then one night, he went into a tirade to end all tirades. I brought the superior of the home in with me to try to calm him. When this failed, the superior and I looked at each other and we firmly but kindly gave him the truth in love. We went over how he had acted from the time he came to Rosary Hill, how everyone had endured his unkindness and given him excellent nursing care. We knew we could not change him. Yet, harshness rarely cures the hardened heart either, so we tempered our words with love. Our foundress knew the answer to the difficult patients:

If the problem is breathlessly difficult, there is but one resource.  The elucidation, the real labor, must be received from and effected by God, through our appeals to Him

(Mother Mary Alphonsa, from Christ’s Poor)

Nothing new happened that night, but Bob was a little quieter. The Sisters and staff continued to care for him as always. Most importantly, the prayers continued. We pray for our patients every day as prescribed by our foundress. It is even scheduled into our daily routine of intentions at our mid-day meal to pray for the spiritual welfare of our patients.

A simple invitation

Shortly after this time, I was walking outside, and Bob was there in his wheelchair smoking a cigarette with his usual deadpan face. I had seen him this way many times and still knew very little of what was behind that face and going on in that mind. I started to walk past him, and then something made me turn around. I said to him, “Next week I will be making my final vows, and I would love to have you there if you would like to come.” He looked surprised and just kind of mumbled in response.

I said, “Just want you to know you are invited. See you later!” and I continued with my walk.

After that I was on my retreat before my final vows and honestly did not think much about the invitation, as my mind was focused on my retreat. Then when the day came for my final vows and I went into the chapel, I was shocked to see Bob there as one of the attendants. I went up to him and smiled. A hug was far too mushy for Bob, and I knew it, but he could see the tears in my eyes. 

After the Mass one of my family members came up to Bob and said, “I don’t know who you are, but you made her happy today by coming!” They shook hands, and Bob, for the first time since I had met him, looked choked up.

He was never easy to talk to. He failed often, but he reached out for the grace to begin again.

It wasn’t long after this that Bob called for the chaplain, the one he had called a “witch doctor,” and after a 30-year absence, he came back to the Church. Now, that doesn’t mean this leopard changed his spots automatically. He had more tirades and tempers, but he kept coming to Mass every Sunday. He made some inroads into his prejudices. He did not bar people from his room and his name calling decreased. He was never easy to talk to. He failed often, but he reached out for the grace to begin again. And, most importantly, he died having received the sacraments and being reconciled to God and his family.

Behind the veil

This conversion story stays in my mind, not because of what I saw in him, but because how small the events were, and what God was able to do with those little choices. I was also given a glimpse on the day of my final profession of how a woman religious images Mary. The early Church Fathers saw that what can be said of Mary can be said of the Church, and vice versa. In that instant, when I saw Bob in the chapel, I was given a glimpse into the workings of God within me, and felt my soul open out. Much like Bernini’s columns at St. Peter’s, I wanted to welcome this man into the Church. I wanted to open my heart to everyone to come into the Church! The glimpse lasted a moment, a pulling away of a veil, but never forgotten. 

And it started with just a simple invitation. God can multiply our smallest actions to the salvation of souls. The vocation of a Dominican Sister of Hawthorne is truly a maternal one, patterned after Our Lady. Our day is filled with chores and tasks; with wounds to bathe and mouths to feed, but in this we tend their souls as well. In our little, everyday tasks, we are much like Mary at the wedding feast of Cana, pointing out to our Lord, the needs around us. 

To imitate Mary as we should seems like an impossible task to us poor sinners, but it can also be very simple. When Mary told her Son that the wedding couple at Cana had no more wine, there were many layers of meaning to this, as with all of Scripture. But it was also a simple request. And here is where we can begin to imitate Mary.  Here is where we can begin to choose rightly.  To simply intercede for those souls God has placed in our midst becomes something sublime, something Marian, when we are His.

~

If you would like to know more about the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, please visit our website www.hawthorne-dominicans.org , or call 845-745-1319.

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