Requiem for Sr Mary Benedict Montehermoso, O.P. (1954-2021)
I would like to thank once again Fr Abbot for the opportunity to offer some words at this Requiem Mass for another of our beloved Rosarian Dominican Sisters, Sr Mary Benedict. Even as we had prayed and hoped that we would not lose another Sister, yet the Lord’s providence has brought us to where we are today. This is truly a mysterious, hidden wisdom. His is a providence that continually amazes and challenges us. His is a providence that includes both haste and delay, at least as we see it. Upon hearing of the critical condition of His dear friend Lazarus, Jesus delayed coming to Bethany. He chose to let Lazarus die and to allow deep sorrow to engulf the sisters, Martha and Mary, along with the entire village. Somehow it was all necessary, necessary in view of what Jesus intended to do with both Lazarus and the sorrow.
Somehow for Sr Mary Benedict, her Sisters, and us, it was necessary that she struggle for a few weeks to survive before passing peacefully to the Lord. And in this there is truly a wisdom that is not of this world. God who fashioned us wonderfully from nothing also fashions us wonderfully for eternity, but in ways baffling to the worldly-minded.
You are never more helpless than when you must depend upon others and even machines to sustain your life with food, water, air. No one likes to imagine himself in that position: totally passive and dependent, powerless to care for yourself. Yet, very often God prepares the soul for eternity just like that, as He did Sr Mary Benedict. In the kingdom of God adults shall become children and the old grow young. Worldly wisdom would have it otherwise: we claim independence and cling to it. The gospel tells us to cling to Christ and He will support you. He himself tells us that no one shall snatch us from His hand, and so we must rest humbly in His palm.
St John Henry Newman says that dependence is what we are made for.
We are not our own, any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves; we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We cannot be our own masters. We are God’s property by creation, by redemption, by regeneration. He has a triple claim upon us. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness, or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. … But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man—that it is an unnatural state—may do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end. No, we are creatures; and, as being such, we have two duties, to be resigned and to be thankful.
That is wisdom. That is simplicity. And if one word could describe Sr Mary Benedict it would be just that: simplicity. As her fellow sister, Sr Mary Alphonso, says of her: “She was a simple, helpful, jolly Sister. You could make her happy in a simple way.” God intends to make all of us happy in a simple way. In this life, our hopes and desires and ambitions can become so tangled up in their complexity. But for the soul who loves God, it is: “One thing I have begged of the Lord, and that I will seek after. To live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may contemplate the Lord’s beauty.”
That is our vocation as religious, as it was Sr Mary Benedict’s as a Rosarian Dominican Sister. That one thing is why we religious do what we do, why we dress the way we dress, pray the way we pray, serve the way we serve, live and love the way we do. All of it is aimed at this one thing: to contemplate the face of God, His beauty, His goodness, His truth.
As priests, we often have the opportunity and privilege of assisting at the bedside of people passing from this world. I am continually struck by how simple everything is in those last moments. Even though in a hospital room, the monitors and blinking lights and alarms and all the equipment make everything look and sound very complicated, the human soul at that moment is not. It has no monitor other than the hand of God and its needs are few; in fact, it is One. And we come to see that it is wisdom to seek that One Thing your whole life. It is wisdom to sell everything and buy the field where the treasure is hidden, or to empty your pockets (even daily, repeatedly) for the rarest pearl you’ve ever laid eyes on.
If Sr Mary Benedict is at this moment still begging the Lord to cross over the threshold into His house, if she is still longing to see His face, we rush to her aid today and beg the Lord for an outpouring of mercy and peace from His altar. All of the holy souls are poor souls, all are beggars, soon to become very rich. And we are all fools compared to the wisdom they possess. And we are all unhappy compared to the joy they possess even in their purification. And perhaps we are too complicated compared to the simplicity of those souls who desire one thing only and who, in Augustine’s words, burn for the Lord’s peace. May the Lord make Sister perfectly happy in a perfectly simple way. And may the immortal Lamb of God, Who takes away all sin, grant her eternal peace, in the simple unbroken vision of His glory.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the twelve: “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” After signaling to John who it is, but not hearing the answer, Peter hears Jesus say to him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” One imagines that Peter understood Jesus to be answering John’s question by identifying him as the soon-to-be traitor.
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