November 02, 2011

Celebrating the 11/11/11

As we gather around the world to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the death of Catherine McAuley, let us in the words of Sheila Carney rsm hear again some of Catherine’s final messages and, from this distance of 170 years, find the wisdom they hold for us today.

Reflection on these last words reveals several themes. The first is the concern she had for those around her – beginning with her physician. “Well, doctor, the scene is drawing to a close” she calmly commented on his appearance, to save him the awkwardness of having to tell her there was no longer any hope of recovery. Father Meyler, who had caused her so much distress and suffering, was welcomed with the request that he forgive her for any way she might have offended him.

Throughout the day, her words to the sisters were full of consolation. Hear her saying to Camillus Byrne whom she had raised “Kiss me, my heart, and then go but don’t be crying. I will see you again.” And to Gertrude Jones, one of the rare older members of the community whose own death could not be far off, “Don’t be afraid to die. I never knew it would be so sweet.” These are examples of the love that, even as she lay dying, focused her on others.

She spoke also of the future of the Institute. When Fanny Gibson exclaimed that they couldn’t go on without her she replied, “If the Order be my work, the sooner it falls to the ground, the better; if it is God’s work it needs no one.” To all gathered around her and to us as well she promised, “Preserve union and peace. Do this and your happiness will be so great as to cause you to wonder. My legacy to the Institute is charity.” Earlier in the day she had confirmed her will but this was an additional, intangible and precious bequest.

Finally, there are those words which reveal the graced and amazing composure and peace of soul that she exhibited in her last hours. To Elizabeth Moore as she increased her volume in leading the prayers for the dying, “No occasion, my darling, to speak so loud. I hear distinctly.” And repeatedly throughout the day, “Oh, if this is death it is easy indeed. The almighty has spared me so much.” The fact that she was able to hold a lighted candle to within an hour of her death is another indication of her clarity and her calm.

Catherine’s words reveal to us that, on this last day of her life on earth, the focus of her heart remained unchanged – resting in her unwavering trust in a Provident God and embracing with love and compassion her family, her sisters and her associates.

(Extract from Liturgy of Remembrance: Commemoration of the death of Catherine McAuley. Sheila Carney, rsm)

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