August 31, 2016
Reflection – Sr. Mary Guido, rc
Last Wednesday night, in ICU at MD Anderson, the Critical Care doctor updated Sr. Ann and me about Sr. Pat’s condition. After describing the gravity of her situation, he said to us, “But her heart is strong.”
During the next few hours by her bedside, I thought, “Oh, doctor, you are so right in more ways than you know.”
For Sr. Pat, the heart meant first and foremost the Heart of Christ, the Heart of her beloved Jesus through whom she longed to do all things and with whom she longed to be united for all eternity.
Dennis, the day after your cousin died, you told me that she could’ve done anything she wanted with her life – CEO, head of a business – but instead she chose a life of service.
You’re right – and I’ll take it a step deeper. She chose to accept Jesus’ desire that she consecrate herself to him through religious life – to unite herself totally and forever to his Heart through the vows that express intimacy, generous self-gift and unbounded love. There would be no half-measures or turning back for her.
I’m sure that is one reason why Eucharist meant so much to her. In receiving Communion, Sr. Pat received Jesus’ body and blood, soul and divinity into her body and blood, soul and humanity. In the eight years I’ve lived with her in Houston, Mass was her priority each day. She planned everything else around it. She would drive herself to early Mass before chemo treatments and CT scans at MDA. She would attend midday Mass when there were early morning Finance meetings at the Cenacle. Uniting herself with Christ in Eucharist was the most significant way she could unite her heart with his.
At the Cenacle Sisters’ General Chapter in Rome this past May – our most important meeting that sets the course of our life and mission for the next six years – the Heart of Christ was the strongest experience shared by the Sisters who attended. We were reminded of a quote from Archbishop Montini of Milan, who later became Pope Paul VI. During the Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of the Cenacle in 1956, he preached:
To enter the Cenacle is to enter into [Christ’s] heart, to dare to experience something of God, to allow something of God to enter into us.
When I returned home from the Chapter and shared a little about this with her, she was very happy that the Heart of Christ was the reality through which the entire congregation would set its course over these next six years. She looked forward to see how Houston and the Province of North America would live this in our prayer, community and ministry.
A second experience of heart I want to mention comes from our foundress, St. Thérèse Couderc, whose life in France spanned nearly the entire 19th century. She once told a young priest, “My heart is as big as the world.”
As a daughter of Mother Thérèse and who I liked to call my Irish Rover, Sr. Pat lived this literally. The US was too small to hold her. She traveled to all six continents for either the Cenacle congregation or her dear Theresians: Brazil, Thailand, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Philippines. She lived a year of Cenacle community and ministry in her beloved Ireland. She carefully planned out chemo treatments so she could attend the Theresian meeting in Ghana. She piggy-backed a visit to her niece Megan in Japan while on her way to a meeting in another country.
Along with the literal “big world”, Sr. Pat’s scope/horizon was vast: women as disciples on the global level; the church beyond our archdiocese; the international realities of Cenacle: which includes the Sisters, Auxiliaries and Associates; the International aspect of Theresians International.
The final experience of heart also comes from our Mother Thérèse and I think we all witnessed Sr. Pat living this especially during her six-year journey with cancer.
In her prayer, “Act of Oblation”, Mother Thérèse writes: “Lord Jesus…let me live for love of you, let me die for love of you, let my last heartbeat be an act of perfect love.”
Sr. Pat’s desire was to live fully until she died. To live meant she would keep giving herself to and for others so that they – we - could experience (as Pope Paul had said) - something of God, that we could allow something of God to enter into us.
She gave herself to Cenacle employees and to her family; to vendors caring for our buildings and property and to retreatants; to chairing our Finance and Investment Committees and to chairing the seminar on the Ignatian 19th Annotation Retreat; to the headaches of the annual budgeting process and to supervising spiritual directors, both interns and those more experienced; to Cenacle Sisters, Auxiliaries and Associates in Houston and beyond.
There were days when this was easier than others, but she always had the desire to live so that others could experience God. To live as Jesus lives, to love as Jesus loves.
As I look back now on her final half-hour last Thursday night, while I rubbed her feet as I watched with others as her heart gradually slowed down, I know she lived the words, “Let my last heartbeat be an act of perfect love.” Her last heartbeat gently came to rest in her beloved Jesus in the presence of we who were physically with her and those who were keeping a prayer vigil elsewhere.
Yes, doctor, our Pat’s heart was strong in this life. And now her heart beats in the Heart of Christ for all eternity.