A couple weeks ago Barbara Nicolosi over at her blog Church of the Masses had a great post about the demise of religious communities. It highlighted some of the problems that are facing nuns today. I'd like to write about another aspect of it: elderly nuns keeping the faith.
On a recent trip I stayed overnight at a large motherhouse of Dominican nuns and met the most delightful sisters. Several of them were in their nineties and were sharp as a tack. They have reason to worry about their community, since in the last 10 years 95 sisters have died and not one vocation has entered. But these nuns were so joyful, so prayerful and full of faith that I went away feeling that there is reason to hope despite the dark clouds.
Sr. Gerard, 92, looked so serene with her white hair coming out of her veil and her bright, sparkling eyes. When we said goodbye to her, she was watching the Mass on EWTN. After saying goodbye, she turned around with an afterthought and fairly shouted, "Isn't the new pope great!"
Sr Dolorata, 98, was more frail but still insisted on walking down the hallway herself. No wheelchairs for her! She's almost blind. She was sitting at a breakfast table by herself as I stood nearby waiting for the toaster to pop. Suddenly she called out, "Banana!" So I obediently got her a banana and cut it open for her. Another sister said, "She's a powerhouse of prayer. She prays all day and intercedes for everyone."
We also visited several sisters in their Alzheimer's unit. Even though their minds are slipping away, they still radiate a joyful serenity and peace. One was walking around with her rosary beads, praying. She may not know what day it is, but she still remembers those prayers. Even though these sisters know their community faces serious problems and may even be coming to its end, they're still keeping the faith and doing what they can. I believe that God will surely hear their prayers and the sacrifice of their lives will draw down many graces. They're living out the paschal mystery. It's easy see God's grace surrounding religious communities when they're young, vibrant, drawing vocations, and seemingly flourishing. But God's grace is just as present when they're living out their own version of Calvary, even more so than in the "good days." As Mother Teresa once said, God doesn't call us to success but to faithfulness.