The Grotto in Castlegar - a lovely place to be on a dry, cool August morning. Feast of St. Clare and Autumn seems to have arrived.
We prayed here for a miracle on May 25th - an incredibly beautiful evening - but there was none given. We came here in our youth across the fields when faith was strong and swift.
Now I'm here preparing for the funeral of our neighbour who was 103 years old, whose daughter has been part of our family for over 60 years and I have the honour of being the brother she never had.
No matter what's going on, this place delivers a peace that is to be found in no other grotto, except perhaps Lourdes.
I'm thinking of the days in the hospital. There was a short period of quiet one evening when conversation ceased and I was alone with Mother and Daughter. In the silence I observed both their hands so effortlessly and tenderly enfolded in each other. They didn’t grasp or hold on tightly; they didn't cling but there was reverence and love.
In the hands of these two great women there is the history of what I think of as a legendary life with all its wonder, discovery, its shared struggle and suffering; its laughter and a love that has progressively deepened, a love that has ascended great heights.
And when the Word of God asks us to see what love the Father has lavished on us, we see an expression of such love, we have witnessed it and felt it in them together and in their own individual ways.
Her Mother's faith is core, not just an external function but an interior, unfathomable depth, a deep spiritual well that she was able to draw from when she could no longer read or pray in the way she used to.
It was inspiring to encounter the spirit of prayer that she maintained to the end. She prayed for all of us and she suffered for us, suffered with Christ for us and it is in Him that all her years of suffering has meaning.
The regular visits of the Parish Priest meant an awful lot to her, were essential part of the care she received and in them she received spiritual sustenance.
Her bed was a place where the spiritual and the material came together. She held the two worlds together in balance. On one side she had Hello magazine with all its glamour and celebrity and on the other she had her prayers and rosary beads.
To be a person of faith in this life means just that - to hold two different worlds together in balance without losing either one; to be a person of faith is to be a blessing to the world and she did this because she held the blessing within herself, she had the resources. Jesus in Holy Communion was her chief resource, together with His Mother Mary and the saints. By these she blessed us, made us feel better, made us laugh and feel happier.
She gave birth to her Daughter who in time came to mother her, became her safe place, her wellbeing. The evidence of this came a couple of years ago when she was not well in the nursing home so her Daughter brought her back home and she became well again. She may not have said it in words but her body spoke, her very being became better in the care her child gave her.
And when the time for parting finally came her Daughter delivered her into Eternal Life by her presence, her love and her prayer. The Word Jesus spoke to her soul, “come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” And in dying she delivered her Daughter again into a new life of her own, a reality emphasised by the fact that the funeral took place on her Daughter's birthday.
Together they have run the race, fought the good fight and kept the faith. “Well done good and faithful servant", good and faithful Daughter who gave an exceptional level of care that has inspired all of us beyond what words can express. It cost nothing less than everything. Everything generously and selflessly given.
It was time, the right time and there is a lovely sense of grace but it also leaves her Daughter with a great big empty space that is her's alone to fill. And, while we will accompany her, we should not rush to fill that space for her.