Yesterday we said our last earthly farewells to Sr Charitas, who died on the morning of February 1, as quietly as she had lived. My family, too, experienced a bereavement this week, and an unexpected one: my eldest cousin, just short of 71, suffered a heart attack Monday night. Rene is the first of my generation to complete the journey of life. Naturally, the coinciding of a death in my family of origin with one in my religious family got me thinking!
Sr Charitas' vigil service was held in our chapel, and took place in several parts: visitation and Rosary Monday afternoon; a memorial service Monday evening; Tuesday morning, in our morning prayer, we also had a time for the sharing of memories, with the novices carrying portable microphones to anyone who wished to offer a reflection. Several of the sisters who were on the nursing team had something to say, and I suppose that is what drew my thoughts toward the gift of service.
Sister Charitas herself had written in her personal notes, "When I am there with people who are in need, I feel happy." She was glad to be present, to be of service. (And from all the testimonies we have received of her, it was clear that this was characteristic of her.) But in the last years of her life, it was she who was the one in need--in need of everything. She could no longer offer the active service of assistance or help or comfort or support. She could only offer the "receptive" kind of service, and we saw for ourselves that it took her a great deal of effort to begin to "let it be done" in this new way; to receive, rather than to do for others. I look at our Sister Augusta, 5 weeks shy of 102: how willingly she would serve, if she were able! But with no short term memory at her disposition, she is perpetually bewildered. Active service is no longer possible; she can only receive. Then there is Sr MP, age 90, still fairly strong and able to serve--but her memory and judgment are so compromised that her generous acts of service often have to be followed after and redone (!).
And then there is Jesus. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God from all eternity, when he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary to spend 33 short years on this planet, "the Son of Man came to serve" (Mt 20:28). As for us, we are only on earth for a limited time, and of that limited time an even shorter, more limited time--the time we call our "prime"--is available in which we are able to serve others. Why hold back?
It is true: there are people who demand that others serve them and even submit to their basest desires. The whole horrible #MeToo phenomenon testifies to that. And there are some souls with so little sense of self, they let others walk all over them. They see that Jesus "took the form of a slave" (Phil 2: 7), but they don't see that he took it on with the freedom of self-possession: "You address me as Teacher and Lord, and rightly: So I am" (Jn 13:13). We can't make a gift of self in service if we don't have a self to give.
As Lent draws near (one week from today!!!!!), are there false convictions in your mind (or damaging self-assessments in your heart) that hold you back from opportunities of service? Are you perhaps like St Martha "burdened with much serving" because you haven't found a way to spend sufficient time in interior peace at the Lord's feet like Mary? How can Lent begin to create a workaround for you? After all, this offer of time to serve is yours for a limited time only!