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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: August 17, 2019
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Carmel of St. Teresa of Jesus in Little Rock on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. It is based on the following readings: Song of Songs 2:8-17; Psalms 63; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; and Luke 10:21-22.
What animal moves on four legs in the first year of life, two legs most of its life and three legs when elderly? Human, of course. We crawl, then we walk and then we use a cane — actually, in the case of Sister Mary Alice, a walker!
Our lives go through many stages, some of which are burdensome: helpless and totally dependent as infants, then gradually able better to provide for ourselves as our mental and physical capacity increases and we become toddlers, and then school children, adolescents, young adults, middle aged.
And, then, if we live long enough the sequence begins to reverse as we head back down toward a second childhood of declining mental and physical capacity, and increasing dependence and helplessness — and Sister Mary Alice has gone through all of these stages and returned full circle to the Creator who first brought her into this life 99 years ago.
She was more “alive” in her 90s than most people are in their 60s, especially in the way she radiated childlike joy — just like we see Jesus referring to in the Gospel chosen for her funeral: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.” That would be Sister Mary Alice!
We will miss her, but we are not really sad at her passing. She was ready to go! So this is a time to take a look at two things that Jesus has to say to us as we gather to return her to the Lord.
The first is that God has given us life as a sacred spiritual trust. What we do with the time the Lord has allotted to us matters. This is something that Sister Mary Alice — and indeed all of you Carmelite sisters — know very well. Altogether she spent 82 years in religious life in what was truly a eucharistic vocation from the early years of her childhood.
While in grade school, when the other kids were out on the playground Mary Alice Grace would use her recess time to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and she also did this the first thing when she arrived at the school in the morning and then again when school was over. This time with the Lord formed her and became an especially powerful source of comfort and strength when she lost her father at age 12.
Now she was attending daily Mass and her attraction to religious life grew to the point that at age 13 she became an aspirant to the Sisters of St. Francis who taught in her school. The were an active order and even though Mary Alice felt drawn more to the contemplative life — especially after reading the life of Sister Marie Celine, a Poor Clare nun — the Franciscans were the order she knew and various people talked her into joining them.
Indeed, she was told that the attraction to the cloister that she felt was a temptation to be resisted. How do you like that? Anyway, she became a Franciscan novice at age 17, taught in schools in Pennsylvania for 13 years until finally she received good advice and was able to follow her heart, entering the Little Rock Carmel in 1950. And she has been here ever since — drawn here, in the words of our first reading from the Song of Songs, by her lover, Jesus in the Eucharist: Sixty-nine years in this Carmel.
Another way in which we see this in the life of Sister Mary Alice was in her lively intellect and positive attitude. Whenever I would come for my monthly Mass and breakfast with the sisters, Sister Mary Alice would frequently have something that she had been reading about that she would like to discuss. Her mental curiosity and openness was remarkable, as was the fact that she was up to date on what was going on in the news and in the Church and with our seminarians.
She knew German and so I lent her an Agatha Christi novel in German, which she read. She was more “alive” in her 90s than most people are in their 60s, especially in the way she radiated childlike joy — just like we see Jesus referring to in the Gospel chosen for her funeral: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.” That would be Sister Mary Alice!
The second truth that we can learn is that God is love. It is strange, but people seem to learn more about God when they are in the shadows of need than when they are in the light. In the 23rd Psalm we find a very interesting progression that has a lot to say to us in any time of grief and so I speak about it in almost every funeral I celebrate.
The psalm begins with beautiful pastoral scenes, green pastures, still waters. In these verses the psalmist speaks about God in the third person, "he." "The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me rest in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters. He gives me new strength, he leads me by straight paths." He always speaks about God, in the third person, "he."
Then, in the middle of the psalm there is a change. The writer enters into an experience, which he calls "passing through the dark valley." And there he changes from the third person to the second person. Speaking of God, he doesn't say, "He," but rather "you" — that is to say, he changes from speaking about God and begins to speak to God, as with a friend, as with a source of strength.
He says: "I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me. You anoint may head with oil, you fill my cup to overflowing. Your goodness and your love accompany me throughout my days, and in your house, oh Lord, I will live forever."
I don't know why, but the psalmist was closer to God in the dark valley than in the green pastures. And grief is a dark valley. But as our psalm insists, if we want to, we can use our time in the dark valley — whether this dark valley or any other dark valley — as an opportunity for us to get to know God in a more real and personal way ourselves.
The Shepherd has not forgotten his sheep. He loves Sister Mary Alice and he loves us and he's here with us in any dark valley we ever have to face.