Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.
“Go right home now, no dawdling on your way.” Sister Lawrence Marie, SP, admonished me as I walked out of our fifth-grade classroom heading home for lunch that Friday morning. That was strange I thought. Sister had never said that before. I hooked up with my brother and along with a few friends, we headed home. We got to the busy corner where Mrs. Lacy, our crossing guard, helped us maneuver the traffic. As she kept us waiting for the light to change, our friend Dan noticed and pointed out that there was a hearse sitting in front of our house. As soon as Mrs. Lacy let us go, my twin brother Dave and I took off running. We arrived in front of our house just in time to see our mother’s remains neatly wrapped in a body bag being rolled out on a two-wheeler hand truck.
All of a sudden, the Assistant Pastor, Fr. Casper’s visit to our home the night before made sense. “You know your mother is dying,” said Father as he sat with us in the living room. “Oh yes, I know that,” I assured him. What I didn’t know was that he had just given my mother “The Last Rites” which in 1956 meant that one truly was at death’s door. Nor did I know the trauma that would result from that day that truly remains with me sixty-six years later.
I don’t remember much more that Friday afternoon in February. The next morning, however, I remember as if it were yesterday. I went to Mass where Fr. Casper was the celebrant. He came up to me afterward and invited me to join him for breakfast at the monastery. Now I grew up across the street from that mysterious building, often hearing chanting coming from the windows and wondering what it was like inside. I accepted, and Father took me into the monastery through the busy kitchen and into a small parlor where we had breakfast. I had a bowl of cereal as I recall. Leaving and heading home, I felt cared for. I didn’t know it, but looking back I realize now that the Church in the person of Fr. Casper became my new mother on that day.
I wonder what would happen if I, imitated Fr. Casper and took Isaiah seriously realizing that it is my responsibility to feed bodily and spiritually, the flock of those about me, and to carry those who can no longer carry themselves. Help me respond dear God to Your cries for help today.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.