“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” Last Sunday, while I was the cantor at Holy Mass, singing this line of the Responsorial Psalm, I was reminded very poignantly of our Sister Mary Agnes, who at that time was in the hospital recovering from her stroke. “Agnus” is a Latin name meaning “Lamb”. As our little community lamb had been cast down the day before, so the provident care of our Good Shepherd had also been present.
Saturday morning in a Poor Clare monastery is a time of happy, homemaking activity. After Holy Mass, we scatter to our individual cleaning charges to put everything in order for the next day’s Sabbath rest. I was sweeping and organizing the garage. Through the open door, I saw Mother Abbess hurry past, having been called from her gardening chores. Nothing unusual to happen to an abbess. But then another Sister came running down the stairs with a message for me. “We think Sister Mary Agnes is having a stroke. Mother Abbess wants you to come.” So, I flew up the three flights of stairs separating me from the gathering of the flock around our fallen lamb. Just minutes before, Sister Francis Maria had been cleaning the hall outside Sister Mary Agnes’ monastic cell and had heard her fall. When Sister Mary Agnes could only respond with slurred speech, Sister Francis Maria rushed to get our nurse, Sister Elise who was cooking that day’s dinner. We all thanked our Good Shepherd for providing that a Sister would be in the right place, at the right time.
Word quickly spread throughout the monastery, our rule of silence gladly giving way to the supreme law of love. I called 911. “We have a woman in her eighties with a possible stroke.” “Address?” “5500 Holly…” “Is this the monastery?” “Yes” “We’ll be there in 10 minutes.” Mother Abbess and Sister Elise prepared Sister Mary Agnes and themselves for a ride in the ambulance. Lunch was made for them. A suitcase of Poor Clare essentials was prepared. A substitute cook continued the dinner. Faxes, phone calls and e-mails sent to family, friends and other monasteries begging for prayers. The medics discovered that their stretcher would not fit in our elevator, so we found a wheelchair. Finally, Sister was on her way to the emergency room while the rest of us at home continued life as best we could, surrounding her with our love and prayers from afar.
Like every family in similar circumstances, we anxiously awaited news from the hospital and Mother Abbess gave us frequent updates. The reports were good, then not so good, then better. It was a joyful day indeed when at last we gathered our lamb back into the monastic fold, grateful that the stroke had not been worse and its effects not as serious as they could have been. She lives life now at a slower pace and we have more opportunities to express our love for her in tangible ways.
How easy it is to take our lives for granted, both the lives of others and our own! As Sister Angelique, our novice said to me last week, “On Monday, Sister Mary Agnes gave us Franciscan History class…on Thursday I cooked with her, and now she is in the hospital!” Truly, we “know not the day, nor the hour”. So much can change in just a few moments. Let us not put off to tomorrow what we can do today, for we do not know if we will have a tomorrow to love, to forgive, to be forgiven, to serve, to give joy. We can only live life seriously and to the full when we face the fact of death.
Since my cell window faces west, I am often treated to marvelous sunsets. The past month has given me spectacular displays; water color scenic paintings with ever changing evening rainbow colors. One night this week, I noticed that the sunset looks just like the dawn. Indeed, my sunset is someone else’s dawn on the other side of the world, or just on the other side of my horizon. Someday, we will all come to that final sunset of our lives. But our Good Shepherd, who is also the Rising Sun, will gather us into His arms and bring us into that New Day, the great Dawn of the Resurrection into new life in our heavenly homeland. He has conquered death by going through it Himself.
“Though I walk through the dark valley, I fear no evil, for You are at my side, with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” May His name be praised for ever! Amen.