My mother was raised Presbyterian and converted to Catholicism
upon her marriage to my father. And like many converts, my mother
took her already-strong Christian faith and lived it seriously as a
Catholic. She was not a doctrinaire and was less concerned with
dogma than in living her faith through the spiritual and corporal
works of mercy.
When I think of my mother, two things come to mind - love and
mercy. Because her style of faith was quite similar to his in tone
and action, I believe she would have loved our new Holy Father,
If this sounds like a eulogy it isn't, but I am talking about my
mother in the past tense. You see, over five years ago she was
diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the inevitable has slowly but
gradually come to pass. My mother has lost all recognition of me
and my four siblings, spouses and grandchildren.
She no longer recognizes her sister, in-laws and former close
friends. My mother has been slowly but gradually slipping away for
years and now she is all but gone. But every now and then we get a
moment - a small glimmer of who she really is and was.
I think it was providential that my oblate vocation took hold
over these same five years. I had early hints of interest in lay
monasticism many years before, but concurrent to my mother's
decline is when I came to embrace the Benedictine path … and at
Saint Meinrad Archabbey specifically.
As my mother went into decline, I retreated into prayer. Not for
some miracle to relieve her of this cross, as I know there is no
cure. Rather, I prayed that my family and I would be able to accept
this heavy yoke, hold on tightly together and remain a united
family. I also prayed that my mother would be able to make it to
the end of her journey with some semblance of personal dignity
What does one do for someone who brought you into the world, has
known you longer than anyone else, loved you more than anyone else
and done more for you than anyone except God Himself? Years ago, I
would have been stumped about what to do. I ultimately came to the
conclusion that all I could do is pray.
So pray I did in my daily Benedictine rhythm - Lauds, Vespers
and Compline … day after day. Over the past few years, whenever I'm
with my mother, I typically recite the Divine Office to her. As my
mother lives 12 hours away and no longer can travel, my time with
her is infrequent - so these times are increasingly few and
Last August, my mother came to visit us and we all knew it would
likely be her last time here. One of my sisters was her traveling
companion. During her stay, there was a glimmer of Mom here and
there, but for the most part she did not really know who we
The last night she was with us, before she went to sleep, we all
went into the bedroom to tuck her in. The family gathered around
her on the bed. It was very quiet and still. And then I prayed
God come to "our"
Lord make haste to help "us."
Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning is now and will be forever,
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant…
May the Lord bless us,
protect us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life.
To my knowledge, my mother never visited a monastery or went on
a retreat to one. And like most lay Catholics, she had never prayed
the Divine Office. But she listened very carefully and peacefully.
And as I recited the psalms, antiphons and prayers, she
instinctively knew when to say Amen - right on cue.
I was certain that she could not ascertain the specific words or
meaning of this ancient prayer ritual, but I do believe that on
some level she had been given the grace of knowing that something
sacred was happening to her and to us. I felt a strong presence in
the room. It was as if, for just an instant, she was given the gift
of understanding just how much she is loved by us, by many others
and, most importantly, by the Almighty.
I concluded Vespers and then made the sign of the cross with
holy water on her forehead. We all hugged her, kissed her and said
good night. As we left the room, I turned and took one more very
long look at her as she gazed back at me smiling. She told me she
loved me. I told her I loved her as my eyes welled up with tears,
and I closed the door.
It was at that moment that I harkened back to my original prayer
for family unity and personal dignity for my mother. And it
occurred to me that, despite the many twists and turns in her
difficult journey - and likely more to come before it's over - my
prayer had already been answered.