Many people say that religious life is a sacred vocation. I’m usually “on guard” against those affirmations that might hint any kind of superior, or higher, or more perfect path of following Christ to consecrated women and men. I deeply believe that a calling to religious life is just that, another calling among many others in the church, all equal. Particularly I, that live in a contemporary expression of this life and that consequently don’t share property with others or live under required celibacy. Nonetheless, this year has proved me that there’s some kind of sacredness to this calling.
Along this year I had the gift and privilege of walking pastorally in a very special way with two members of my congregation. It was the first Thursday of Lent and we had gathered to pray Compline at the church. With a cracked voice she told me that, although maybe with at least 40 years of life to go still, she had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and that she would die in less than a year, maybe just a couple months. Her hands were shaking, fear filled her. God made nobody else show that evening and we prayed together, we cried together, we pledged to walk together this path through weekly Communion and prayer, and to live life to the fullest, as long as God wanted us to. Weeks went along, and as her body was becoming thinner and feebler, her spirit was growing upward and becoming stronger. At the end of her road, there she was, standing strong like a Ceiba. She was only worried about the things that still needed to be done in our small church plant: the Sunday School, our dreamed after school program, raising of new leadership. Completely detached from the world, she was grateful for her life, for her family, happy to see them grow and blossom, at peace with walking deeper in the communion of saints.
My other parishioner had been fighting cancer for two years. The fight had been long, she was also young. She had many questions, she wasn’t sure why all this was happening to her, but she persisted. She held on to her faith as her raft in the middle of the ocean. Together we would break bread every week, and we would pray the apostle’s prayer: Lord, I believe, but increase my faith! I could see how that hospital bed was the Altar she was offering her life from, trying to keep the family united, taking care of her children, forgiving her husband, all this while walking in the darkness, seeking the light.
In all this I was in first row, as a silent witness of their faith, their growth, their struggles. As friend walking with them. As a shoulder to rest when they were tired or to cry when was needed. It was mostly a ministry of being present. There are not many words you can say to somebody in this situation- but Jesus does -and Jesus shows up at Communion, both in the sacrament and in the church gathered. And I was there to witness it.
Months after these events I’m still in awe. Who am I to be called into these sacred moments? How can I be of help? As a religious and Lay Eucharistic Minister I’m called to be the church in these places. Not by my wisdom, or my words, but by being a prayerful compassionate presence. Offering a human wounded heart to walk with them and the gift of the Blessed Sacrament as a viaticum (food for the way) for those in need.
If there’s any sacredness to this vocation this is it: the immeasurable gift of being allowed to be see the grace of God act powerfully in people’s lives and offer my own broken heart as a companion for the way, wherever the Lord may take us.