Before Christmas, Steven and I traveled to San Antonio to visit our beloved Father Sheehan at the Oblate Madonna Residence.
At the conclusion of time happily spent with Father, not to mention the VIP tour he gave us of the grounds and the facility where he resides, Steven and I drove to the Oblate gift shop.
On entering the building I noticed the displays in the hallway. It’s amazing how Mary graces everything everywhere related to the Oblates!
Then I walked into the gift shop, and— Oh, my! What a wonderful place with groupings here and there very tastefully done. I asked the woman behind the counter if I could take photos; but she looked at me as if to say, “Hmm, I think not.”
I suppose I could’ve asked her supervisor, but I chose to explore the shop instead and was immediately taken with the statues’ faces. Whether same-sized or not, each statue’s face was unique.
“That’s because each statue has been hand painted,” Steven responded.
“Oh, my gosh!” I gushed as I held the Infant statue. “He’s so beautiful!”
“I can’t. I already have mine. And the small ceramic one that belonged to Tía Queta, the one Belia gave me. What would I do with another one? Besides, one is enough. How sad if I couldn’t focus all my love on just one!” I rationalized, trying really hard not to give in to my impulses.
“No, that’s all right. I have mine, but this one is absolutely gorgeous. His face is the most beautiful here. Such an exquisite face!” I said, putting the statue back with the others. “Did you see St. Anthony? Oh, my gosh. That’s another one, but I’m going to walk around now because what I really need are prayer cards for my blog.”
I’ve always said that presentation is everything, and the gift shop certainly had me oohing and ahhing. I could easily have spent hours browsing, but we’d agreed to visit the Oblate cemetery afterwards and didn’t want to put that off.
I selected fifteen laminated cards, including St. Martin of Tours for my “Budding relationships” post, and looked around the shop one last time before heading to the checkout counter.
Of course, Steven had gotten there first and— Oh, my gosh. He had the statues as well as three Guadalupe Tepeyac mementos for the gang. I was happy, yes, but concerned, too. I should know better than to open my mouth when I see something I really and truly like. Still, I had a thought about the Infant, one that I had no intention of sharing lest I change my mind. (My thoughts about this are in the letters below.)
The temperature had dropped since we’d been at the gift shop, so I tried not to think about the cold. Shivering, I followed Steven behind the gift shop to the adjacent property and remained on the street.
What a sombering sight to see rows of headstones perfectly aligned, keeping reverent company with one another.
Steven walked past a few and said, “Some of these dates go way back!”
Then, out of the blue, a nicely plumped mockingbird perched itself atop one of the markers before brazenly flying to one closer to us. It didn’t budge at all as if letting us know, “I’m the caretaker here, so you be respectful.”
Standing there at the cemetery I felt so very sad at the realization that priests are just like the rest of us: They deal with debilitating illnesses and die.
Then, too, the thought of priests residing so close to the place where they might be buried hit me like a ton of bricks! The reality of life and death seemed quite harsh as my mind wondered, Have they returned to where they started their journey to be buried here, too?
Again and again, I took note of all the headstones. I wanted to spend time with each one, read their names and dates, and thank them for heeding the call of service.
So many priests buried here! I wonder what their lives were like. I wonder if their families came to the funeral services or if just the Oblates attended because their relatives were either dead, too old to assist, or unable to attend for other reasons.
It’s quite a sacrifice to spend one’s life away from family as Father Sheehan has done since 1949, when he first joined the seminary at age fourteen. He was such a youngster then; but, as time passed, his parents died and so did many of his thirteen siblings.
So, is this what happens when priests come to the Madonna Residence to retire? Do others ever stop to think what happens when priests retire? When they’re alone with no one to visit? When they’re ill? When they’re confined to a facility and can no longer serve as they used to?
I thought back to my students.
Incredibly, some of them had no idea that I had a life outside of teaching. They were stunned to see me shopping for groceries, surprised to see me at the mall, amused to see me wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, glad to see me at church, but always joyful to bump into me anywhere, everywhere.
Similarly, I’d never wondered what Father Sheehan meant when he wrote that he’d retired, when he told me he was living in a home. I’d imagined him still celebrating Mass on a daily basis or assisting at various parishes as needed. I’d never stopped to think that some priests might be physically and/or mentally incapacitated or that they’d live in either a nursing home or an assisted living facility.
Other than contributing to special collections for retired priests and religious at church and mailing donations for that purpose to Catholic groups we support, I’d never given much thought to what retirement means for those in God’s service.
Our visit to Father Sheehan at the Oblate Madonna Residence was quite a revelation, but seeing the cemetery felt like being stabbed in the heart!
Promise of hope
Since returning from our trip to San Antonio, my mind has continued to process my thoughts and feelings from our visit with Father Sheehan. At times tearfully, I’ve contemplated the reality of what it is to be in service to God.
Regardless of what it takes to choose that vocation— or even how much one loves that life— it’s not an easy road to see through to the completion of one’s life.
No matter how good the care is at retirement facilities, there’s so much of real life that’s absent. Family, for instance, which explains Father Bob’s exuberance in telling us that he’d be spending Christmas with his three nephews and why Father Sheehan has always talked about his month’s vacation “back home in Chicago” where he stays with his three sisters.
“I could stay longer, but I don’t want them to get tired of having me around,” he told us matter-of-factly with an air of wistful amusement.
Does he make himself say that because he knows that, no matter how much he loves and enjoys his family, his chosen path is different from the rest of us who live in the real world day in and day out? Does he feel out of place when he’s gone too long from his chosen environment?
A book I read aloud to my students suddenly came to mind.
Like the Velveteen Rabbit who gave his all for the love of a child, Father Sheehan and others we saw at the Oblate Madonna Residence gave their all for the love of God.
What selfless dedication to the one whose son is our promise of hope!
Prayers to the Holy Infant of Prague
Novena… O Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of the Universe, you chose to humble yourself and come into the world not as a powerful ruler, but as a helpless infant, grant us the grace of humility and gentleness before you and our brothers and sisters.
Grant, too, O Lord, that we may always strive to achieve the virtue and innocence of your own holy childhood.
Instill in us a growing faith in you, O Lord, and the strength to resist temptation in a world which widely rejects you.
Look upon us with compassion and forgive us our sins. Fill our hearts with kindness and understanding, especially for children, the aged, and those we dislike or who dislike us.
O Jesus who so loved children that you admonished us, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” grant us a childlike faith and purity of heart.
During these nine days of prayer, O Divine Infant King, give us the grace not only to pray fervently but also to help spread your gospel by deed as well as word. Amen.
Petition… O Infant of Prague who said, “The more you honor me, the more I will bless you,” give us the strength to bear the burdens of daily life in this sinful world. Give us a firm purpose of amendment and a resolve to lead a better life. Help us endure our afflictions and sorrows with patience and courage.
Finally, O beloved Infant King, if it be your will, grant my petitions…. But whatever you choose, give me the strength to submit to your will in all things. Amen.
The prayers may be said on any nine successive days, especially from the 16th to the 24th of any month and, most especially in December, before the Feast of the Nativity of Christ the Infant.
June 3, 2015
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1817).
May 19, 2016
Divine hope is not like earthly hope. The latter is subject to disappointment, for however strong our security, it can either be realized or not realized. Who is the fortunate person who has seen all his hopes fulfilled in this world? But the theological virtue of hope is not subject to disappointment; it gives us the holy, invincible certainty that we shall obtain what God has promised (Luis M. Martinez, When God is Silent).
Links of interest… Child Jesus: about / chaplet (more) / devotion / feast / novena / of good health… Father’s funeral remembered… Priests: 100 prayers for priests / holy hour for priests / novena / prayers for priests / priests and religious prayers / St. John Vianney… Promises, promises… Uncertain lives: Children of promise, teachers of hope (Bullough, Jr.; 2001)… When God is silent…
WP posts… Angels keeping watch… Building community… Call of service… Christmas year ’round… Connected tangents… Father’s guided tour… Father now retired… Gifts… Heart of hearts… Marian devotions… Mary’s miraculous medal… Mary’s seven joys… May flowers… Memory lane… On being Christian… Our Lady… A real church… Santo Niño… Soulful… Sweet Jesus… Two angels… Venerable Margaret
Filed under: call of service, Child Jesus, Our Lady, prayer, spiritual gifts, thanksgiving and praise | Tagged: building community, God's master plan, Oblate Cemetery-San Antonio TX, Oblate Grounds-San Antonio TX, overcoming adversity |