A couple of weeks ago, I visited the motherhouse of a congregation of religious sisters for a weekend. I was there to give some talks to a handful of visitors making a vocation retreat. Upon arrival, I was informed that one of the older sisters in residence was nearing death, and I was asked if I would offer Mass and give her Viaticum.
The Mass wasn’t exactly transcendent in its outward trappings. We all packed into the dying sister’s infirmary room — a few members of the her family, several of her sisters in religion, and myself. I celebrated on an overbed table, managed to butcher the Gloria, and preached poorly. When it came time for Communion though, she was able to receive a drop of the Precious Blood and to acknowledge it with some clarity. Despite the humble circumstances, the Mass proved very beautiful. Less than a day before her death, Sister was able to receive Christ, the Lover of her soul, he who had promised to draw her to himself. And for that moment, she was surrounded by those who loved her best, who held her close, even as they prepared for her departure.
The experience stayed with me throughout the weekend. As I spoke to the women visiting the convent (each thinking about a possible religious vocation), I could reassure them from the vantage of an infirmary bedside. Here was a place they could spend their one beautiful life. I had just seen one such life come to successful issue. I could testify to that.
I never had a conversation with the sister who passed. I learned later that she was a kind woman, a good educator, a talented artist, and strong lover of God. Truth be told though, I didn’t need to know all of that in order to register her witness. She had died well. She passed from this world as one fed by God, nourished by her consecrated life, and cherished by the women with whom she shared it. There are few things, perhaps no things, more worthwhile.
I had prepared some words for the women visiting prior to my arrival. But, as it turned out, I didn’t need many of them. This one sister had taught me all I needed to know and all I needed to preach: Here is a community where you gladly live, for this is a community in which you can gladly die.
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.