Reflection for Oblation 2016
April 23, 2016
Anne Shepard, OSB
Maybe John just heard it for the first time. But for him to record that Jesus said "I give you a new commandment that you love one another" is a bit strange. Since the beginning of the world God loved us and told us to love one another and every learned person knew that. When I sat with the readings in prayer over these weeks, it occurred to me that a very close friend of Jesus recorded the last conversations he had with Jesus. The record is referred to as the "last discourse", about 3,000 words long! It is what Jesus judged to be important to say once he had a premonition that death was coming soon.
One of the many gifts for one who is a prioress is to wait and watch with sisters before they die. On more than one occasion I have asked a sister for advice. Sometimes they will make profound statements of faith and gratitude even without prompting. One sister had a list of people with whom she wanted to talk so she could be reconciled to them. She had experienced a profound sense of the tenderness of God through the service of doctors, caretakers, and us, her sisters, and she felt deep remorse for all the broken relationships in her life. She wanted to embrace God as healed as she could be. Another looked to the sky and waved to people as if to say "Hi there, I'm coming!" Another spent her last days in front of the tabernacle in St. Lucy chapel, eating Oreo cookies and Tootsie Rolls that she had swiped from candy jars throughout the monastery while she talked out loud to blood sisters that had preceded her in death.
Sisters Alverna and Pia, both frail, both about the same height, a little taller than Sister Mary Ethel, were in rocking chairs facing each other and holding hands. Sister Alverna was restless toward the end of her life. So Sister Pia kept chanting " I love you Sister, I love you Sister." (With the German accent it was "I love you didder, I love you didder.") Younger Sisters Celine Carrigan, Marie Van Hee and Mary Alice Guilfoil, to name a few, did not want to let go. Celine wanted to attend the Benedictine College graduation the day she died.
Well, this is the Oblation night and friends and family members are here to celebrate, so why am I talking about the last moments of a few Atchison Benedictine Sisters? We're in the Easter season, the season when the apostles mourned the death of Christ and the season before Pentecost, the feast wherein the Spirit came to enlighten them with the courage and insight they needed to keep living in hope as Christ did. It a season not only of endless jelly beans and chocolate, beautiful flowers on the altar, green grass and the chirping of birds waking us up, but it is a time when we remember again what St. Benedict says about keeping death daily in front of our eyes. It a season of living what is important and visiting with people about who Christ is in their lives. Maybe it's a time of being really conscientious about how we live so we can be conscious of how we want to be remembered. It's a time when the commandment to love one another takes on a new meaning. What will be included in your last discourse? Words and acts of love, I hope.