Saturday, February 6, 2010
St. Joseph Chapel


Reflections from Our Lady of Lourdes Day for the Sick, 2010

In recognition of World Day of the Sick, Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta and the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles hosted an event on the campus of Santa Teresita in Duarte, California. Guests included the residents of the Manor and Bethany Hall and their family and friends, as well as visitors from surrounding communities.

A small group assembled in the Santa Teresita cafeteria to receive the Blessing of the Hands upon all those who work with, and care for, the sick and infirm. This was followed by assigned teams who proceeded to the two patient-care centers – Bethany Assisted Living and Manor Skilled Nursing – to meet and personally accompany a resident to the Chapel.

Prior to the moment of meeting my companion, the gathering was impressive and well-organized, but it became truly personal when I guided the wheelchair carrying an older woman. In the steps it took from Bethany to the Chapel, the little conversation we had with each other found its way into my heart and my eyes were opened to the true meaning and depth of this prayerful event that was soon to begin.

Celebrating World Day of Prayer for the Sick by Barbara Giolando

We entered the Chapel and were directed to our place among the row of wheelchairs lined single file against a wall. I chose a seat directly across the aisle from where Elizabeth’s (not her real name) chair was stationed so I could assist her if she was in need of anything during the service.

Bishop Gabino Zavala officiated the Mass which was concelebrated with several other priests. After the opening hymn of “Hail, Holy Queen,” the Bishop walked among the people, blessing them with a sprinkling of water from Lourdes.
It was during Mass that my eyes roved through the congregation. The seats were filled to capacity. My thoughts were drawn to the older people in whose honor this gathering was planned. Without exception, every one of them, within my sight, sat quietly and very still, with their eyes focused reverently upon the altar. They maintained that posture throughout the entire ceremony. I, on the other hand, wrestled with feeling uncomfortable in my pew, finding myself distracted on many occasions.

As my mind wandered during the Mass, I reflected on the lives of these older, now infirm people who have resigned themselves to the fact that they can no longer assume total responsibility for their well-being. The words of Henri Amiel came into my thoughts at this time, “To know how to grow old is the masterwork of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” His words awakened within me the fact that I was seated among these wise people who are now the epitome of the great art of living. I felt humbled and privileged and blessed to be in their presence.

Then, my mind flowed toward the many journeys in life these beautiful people have traveled. Most of them have experienced the loss of their spouses. Many have felt the horrific loss of their children or grandchildren. Some of them know what it is to be estranged from a family member. All of them have lost their parents and some of their siblings. All of them have traveled many roads and have accomplished many things.

They have seen times change, and long for the simpler days when we used our minds to add and subtract…they did not rely on calculators. They miss the hand-written letters and personal phone calls that can now be conveyed on computers. They yearn for the over-the-fence neighbor-to-neighbor conversation that no longer exists. They crave fried chicken, mashed potato and gravy dinners, meals once cooked and served within the home with fine china and around-the-table conversations that today are presented in take-out packages with plastic tableware assembled around the TV to watch a sports game. I can relate to all of the above because I am of that era. They all miss the past…the way things used to be – as did our grandparents and as you, the reader, will do some day, as well.

The beauty of these older ones who are now infirm and in need of care is that they still maintain an air of dignity and respect. They radiate a sense of trust in God and in those who care for them. They have resigned themselves to the will of God and, as Mother Regina Marie stated in her comments after the Mass, “Suffering and age is not a choice, but it is your choice to say yes to our Lord.” These people have said “yes” to Him. Mother further stated, “You who suffer inspire those of us who serve you.” How very true.

The older generation is an inspiration. They are the grandparents who recognize that grandchildren elevate love to a new level. They are the generation who still relies on the strength of prayers said in nine day Novenas, in recitation of the Rosary, and in time spent in meditation before the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

The power of this ceremony also included the anointing of the sick. The honored guest, as well as the Carmelite jubilarians in attendance, were given a flower to recognize their place of honor during this Mass. At the end of the Mass, the flowers were gathered and placed in vases to be presented as bouquets at the foot of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The bouquets were placed by two Carmelite Sisters…one celebrating her 50th year in service to our Lord, and the other celebrating her 60th year in His service.

Two lines from the recessional hymn “O God Beyond All Praising” resonated within the hearts and souls of the honored older guests…
“And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
We’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless You still.”

Two quotes rest in my mind at the end of reflecting upon this beautiful day at the complex of Santa Teresita and in the company of the honored elderly – “A man’s age represents a fine cargo of experiences and memories” (Antoine de Saint –Exupery), and “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been” (Mark Twain).

This celebration of World Day for the Sick blessed and enlightened me and my husband. I found a friend – Elizabeth. I will visit her. I know my conversations with her will bring a growth of knowledge and wisdom within my own being. My husband’s companion was a Carmelite Sister who uses a walker to ambulate. He was amazed that her pace was almost faster than his, and he, too, learned a great deal from hearing her story.

We were blessed by God in ways not expected. These blessings are forever etched within our hearts and have penetrated into our souls. We are eternally grateful to God, to the Carmelite Sisters, to the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta, and to the Santa Teresita residents. Each one of you gave meaning and profound depth to this day. We thank you and as the Carmelite Sisters say so often, “May God reward you.”

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