This Friday morning dawns, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. A quiet day for us here in our Boston Motherhouse, yet one permeated with a sense of completion. These past twelve days in which we have kept vigil at the side of one of our sisters, have quietly ended as Sr Charitas’ last breath became the bridge to her eternal wedding. The heavens torn open with glory and thanksgiving….
This tiny sister who for the past few years suffered from an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease has walked to the end the road Jesus has marked with his love and his blood. Jesus is so great and so beautiful a Love (paraphrasing the words of Saint John Paul II) that he alone deserves the priceless gift of a woman’s life when she gives him everything…every breath, every ounce of her strength, all her love and desire, all her intelligence and initiative, joy and sorrow, her past and future, for a lifetime.
As I stand, candle in hand, in the liturgy in our Motherhouse Chapel, I am comforted. I feel the supportive presence of Mary around us all. She once brought her son Jesus to the temple to be offered to the Father, as we read in today’s Gospel, and she continues in the Church to offer each one of her sons and daughters to the Father for his glory, that they might embody the Light Jesus brought to the world…so many flickering candles burning themselves out with joy and gratitude for so great a privilege to serve him.
Consecrated life. Is it here to stay? Saint John Paul II stated that religious not only have a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished (VC 110). It is true. I can feel and trust that it is so, solely because each of us in our poverty and weakness, our desires and love, associate our flickering candles’ light with the everlasting Light of the World, and our faltering steps with the Suffering Servant on Golgatha. It is He who writes the only history that is Salvation for all.
To any who wonder whether religious life is worth it, I can truly say this morning, surrounded by my sisters both older and younger, a strong and forceful yes. Consecrated life lives in the heart of the Church as a prolongation of Jesus in the world, an extension in space and time of He who is the one and only Light, the manifestation of His Heart’s compassion to all the wounded and weary….
The charity of Christ had burned in Sr Charitas’ heart like a fire that wouldn’t let her rest if there was one more thing she could do to announce to the world the everlasting love Jesus has for humanity. Like a candle gently burning itself out, Sr Charitas’ last years of her life on earth were peaceful.
This morning a sister told me that she had asked Sr. Charitas a few days ago: “Do you see the angels? Do you see Mary? Is she beautiful? Are the angels beautiful?” Sr. Charitas attempted to speak, to tell her something. We’ll never know what she said. But many of us were very aware when we visited her that Sr. Charitas was looking around the room, seeing something hidden from our eyes.
Consecrated life makes visible to everyone what is true for all of us, though sometimes forgotten in the rush and tumble, grace and drama of our lives.
“Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the One who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ” (Saint Sophronius, Office of Readings for the Feast of the Presentation).
In today’s third Psalm in the Office of Readings: “Rejoice and exult, new city of Zion. See how humbly your King comes to save you.”
Listen, O daughter, give ear to my words:
forget your own people and your father’s house.
So will the king desire your beauty:
he is your lord, pay homage to him….
Psalm-Prayer: When you took on flesh, Lord Jesus, you made a marriage of mankind with God. Help us to be faithful to your word and endure our exile bravely, until we are called to the heavenly marriage feast, to which the Virgin Mary, exemplar of your Church, has preceded us.
So, my Friends, on this radiant day, rejoice that you have been drawn into this marriage feast, that the king desires your beauty, that the gates of heaven are open to you, and that you are called to bring to those around you this radiant message of hope!
Sr. Kathryn James, FSP