May 2, 2021
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 22 which captures the message of all our readings this Sunday: how we receive, cherish, grow and share our faith.
When I read these passages this morning, an image came to my mind.
Sister Bernard Mary was a special, and rather unique Sister of Mercy. Born in 1917, and a true representative of “The Greatest Generation”, she served as a Navy nurse in WWII. Afterward she joined the Sisters of Mercy and lived a long life of expert care in our hospitals and other institutions. Among her many clinical talents, she was the supreme phlebotomist. She could stick even a difficult vein with you never ever noticing the pinch.
When Bernard died at the age of 91, a lone sailor stood in our community cemetery to bugle “Taps” over her flag-draped coffin. The melody captured all the singular simplicity of her dedicated and faithful ministry, sending it to heavens that welcomed her.
Bernard was one of those iconic sisters whose life was fully focused on her faith and ministry. She worked every day, all day and, as far as I could tell, had few other interests than a love of her family.
But she had an orchid plant. And it was a doozy. Given the plant as a small gift, she had nurtured that flower like the practiced healer that she was. She understood it, spoke to it, listened to it, responded to it, providing it deeper roots as it grew to an impressive size. Like any plant, it went through cycles. Bernard patiently accompanied and nourished it through every one.
As a result, the orchid was huge and astoundingly beautiful – to the point that each year, it would be entered in the Philadelphia Flower Show. At least on one occasion, it won first prize!
(The Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual event produced by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Said to be the “largest indoor flower show in the world”, it attracts more than a quarter million people annually.)
The image? That magnificent plant was a symbol – the visible expression of Bernard’s quiet but powerful faith.
Let’s consider our own faith. It’s a gift. It deserves our complete and loving attention. It must remain deeply rooted within us. And it should be displayed for the benefit of others through our loving and merciful ministry to those in need.
Psalm 22 says so:
I will offer praise in the great assembly;Psalm 22: 26-27
my vows I will fulfill before those who reverence the Lord.
The needy will eat their fill;
those who seek the LORD will offer praise.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!
The Acts of the Apostles says so:
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.Acts 9:31
It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
John’s letter says so:
And God’s commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as commanded us.
Those who keep these commandments remain in himGod, and God in them,
and the way we know that God remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.
And our Gospel today says so:
Remain in me, as I remain in you.John 15: 4-5
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Dear Bernard, simple, faithful sister – you taught me so many things without your ever realizing it… thank you!
Poetry: Re-planting – Renee Yann,RSM
That afternoon, winter framed sunlight in the cold windows. I watched you spread small greens across a wooden table, fingering their thready roots like harp strings. A song fell from that, like quiet, nurturing rain. Unable to sing, I let the song seep quietly into me, bathing my uprooted soul in the warm silence between us. There, in that comfort, the small cutting at my core sought earth, sought healing. Finally, I spoke and laid the whole parched root upon the table of your mercy. And you, ever-tender gardener, lifted it and blew the dust away, and spitting gently in your hand, massaged the feeble life it hid before you stood it carefully in soil. You said, “Life is like this sometimes. Be gentle with it. It will bloom again.”
Music: With An Orchid – Yanni