A thought recently happened upon me as I was considering my call to religious life. The 1950’s are far behind us and who knows if there will ever come a time when religious communities will see those numbers again. I am well aware of the statistics of my aging community, how significantly different--and specifically smaller--we will be ten to fifteen years from now. This is not just our reality, this is the reality of religious life today.
I recently shared with a sister in my local community that I was realizing the amount of loss that will be a part of my life in choosing to follow this call. To love greatly there will be a cost, there usually is. She looked at me and gently said, “But there is much life too!”
Last week I attended the funeral of one of our sisters with whom I had grown in relationship during my candidacy experience. She was a beautiful Irish sister with one of the most authentic and contagious smiles I’ve ever seen. The last two months had been difficult ones as she slowly embraced Sister Death after the diagnosis of terminal cancer. She is not the first sister in community I have lost nor will she be the last. She may not even be the last this year.
As our sisters raised their hands in blessing our sister’s passing into eternal life, I gazed upon the Paschal Candle quietly flickering to the side of the altar. It had grown short from the many sisters who went before her, and will continue to grow shorter as others follow. I thought of the loss and I thought of the life. How beautiful a short Paschal Candle is for it represents the life and death and let us not forget the resurrection. Every inch of wax melted is a reminder of the life lived in bringing Christ into our world, here and now! This is incarnation and what greater hope have we than that?
We younger religious stand upon this melted wax representing all the lives of women who came before us making the way for us to become the new wick by which Christ will continue to light the world afire.