Monday, 3 September 2007

Sister Cora's last lesson...

I love reading articles and devotionals from "The Word Among Us". Was introduced to me by Bernice some time ago. In Malaysia's catholic churches, they sell the common 3 devotional books, just like "Our Daily Bread". We have "Shalom" which is published by Prayer Ministry Office in PJ, "One Bread One Body" from Presentation Ministries ( and "The Word Among Us".

I would say "Shalom" is very reflective kind of devotional. Towards the end of the day when I read it, I felt very compassionate about life. Everyday when we strive to achieve our dreams, works and responsibilities, is there a meaning when we can't / bother to look around to see who is in need. Or whether we have been concerned to nourish our soul.

Next, I think "One Bread One Body" complements "Shalom". When certain bible passages are not easily understandable, the earlier explains the latter. And further, it tell the connections between bible verses. So, if you're a bible adventurer, "OBOB" if for you.

Next, "TWAU" is slightly more expensive, but it has articles to read. It has lighter reflections and make you see the positive side of negativity. Here, I found one recent article to share and which is worth reminding all of us again:

Sister Cora's Last Lesson

A powerful teaching from an unlikely source

by Barbara Kramer

"Here is something you might want to do", said my husband, as we left church one Sunday. He pointed to an item in the parish bulletin: Has your life ever been touched by the Sisters of St. Joseph? "Would you like to return the kindness?" It went on to ask for volunteers to help out at the local nursing home for the retired nuns from the order.

The Sisters had staffed the Catholic schools in our area for many years and taught all three of our children. They had also shown me great kindness when I was growing up. My mother died when I was eleven, and for the next two years, the Sisters had taken me into their boarding school and under their wing, giving me the support, kindness, and direction that I needed.

That bulletin came at the perfect time. Our last child had just gone off to college, and our family nest was feeling very empty. Volunteering at the nursing home seemed like just the thing to do.

Yes, But . . .? I had one stipulation, though, and I told God about it as I drove to the home for my first interview: Lord, I will gladly read to these Sisters, listen to them, do little things for them. But there is no way that I can help anyone with Alzheimer's disease.?

I had too many memories of my grandmother, whose final years were marked by severe dementia. She had always seemed so angry, and I was terribly afraid of her. On a deeper level, though, diseases like Alzheimer's were too disturbing to me. Why did God allow these things to happen especially to people who had served him faithfully? How could anyone who had lost their sense of identity possibly serve his purposes?

None of this came up in my interview with Sr. Sheila, the volunteer coordinator. We had a pleasant conversation, followed by a tour of the home. It was shining clean, and the residents were obviously well cared for. I was impressed and said so. "Good," said Sr. Sheila. "Can you help in the Alzheimer wing on Saturday afternoons?" My heart sank. My mind said, "No! No, I can't!" And yet, to my great amazement, I heard myself saying, "Yes, I can try."

Teacher and Student. The next week, I was shaking in my boots as I reported for duty at the Alzheimer wing. Sr. Sheila introduced me to the twenty or so nuns there. They were in various stages of physical and mental deterioration. Much to my surprise, however, they were not angry. They were welcoming, peaceful, and kind. With unquestioning acceptance, they took my hand as we walked into the activity room.

My role was simply to be with several of the Sisters to sit and talk, give them what they needed, and make sure they didn't leave the building. The work was challenging, yet satisfying. But as the weeks went by, caring for one Sister in particular became my biggest challenge.

Sr. Cora (not her real name) was a feisty, vigorous, and rather gruff woman who seemed to delight in finding ways to elude my watchful eye. At the same time, she always seemed glad to see me. I, for my part, became very fond of her.

The early stages of her disease, Sr. Cora still acted in character. A former teacher at an all-boys school, she would inform me in forceful tones, about "going to the principal's office now. You stay at your seat. I'll be right back".And she would march grandly off, scolding me like a naughty student when I tried to stop her. But as her disease progressed, even the teacher in Sr. Cora faded and then disappeared completely.

The Picture on the Wall. Sr. Cora usually repeated the same things over and over. But one day, as the two of us sat visiting in her room, she began speaking with unusual clarity. "No one ever liked me, you know," she said in a confiding tone. "My family was probably glad to get rid of me when I joined the convent."

Stunned, I tried to protest, "Sr. Cora, that can't be. You must have had a cousin or an aunt or friends who liked you."

"Nope, no one," she answered. Then she hesitated. "Well, okay, there was one person who liked me but I don't remember his name."

"Was he a relative? A friend??". "I told you I don't know!" she replied in a loud, impatient voice. "But if you're so darn curious, just turn around. His picture is on the wall behind you."

I turned, expecting to see a photo of a favorite uncle or grandfather. There instead was a familiar picture of a man with a kind and loving look. Tears were running down my face as I exclaimed, Sr. Cora, that't Jesus!

"I told you I can't remember his name,"she said. "But I'm telling you, he was always around when no one else was. And he always took good care of me." I was speechless. Sr. Cora's deteriorating mind had not lost her sense of Jesus being with her. Suddenly, I could see that he was still with her, even as her faculties and sense of self kept slipping away.

Whatever happened, Sr. Cora would never lose her identity as a beloved child of God. And neither would she lose her ability to serve God's purposes. Without even knowing it, by bearing witness to Jesus's presence in suffering, she was still doing God's work. Sr. Cora was still teaching. And I felt honored to be her student.

Barbara Kramer lives in Portage, Michigan.

*Not intending to infringe any copyrights

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