Monday, May 11, 2009

"I am with you always...."

The elderly lady closed the front door with a loud thud, the bang causing me to lift my head. Buttoning her coat she walked slowly down the pathway and crossed over the narrow street. I stopped the lawn mower and walked towards her as she waved. "I'm Olive" she said shyly. "Welcome to the neighbourhood." She looked past my shoulder into the open porch way. I answered her silent question "my friend Therese is out, she'll be back in an hour." She nodded "I just wondered would you like to come over and have a cup of tea with me?"
I walked into the bright neat living room and sat down where Olive pointed. She moved slowly and graciously towards the table. Placing the small flowered china cup on to the saucer she then lifted the heavy tea pot and poured the golden liquid slowly into the cup. My first thought was to jump up and offer to do it but a sudden glance from Olive assured me she was used to this and was well able, thank you, which she certainly was!
I sank into the comfortable couch and sipped my tea as Olive chatted about the neighbourhood. "Do the neighbours call in?" She looked at me for a moment and answered candidly. "I don't encourage them to call in. I don't like gossip, I too may be a victim of that!" As a final gesture on the matter her hand firmly brushed away the few biscuit crumbs that fell on to her soft wool skirt.
In the peaceful atmosphere of the room I felt I was in the presence of a beautiful soul, a heart only known to God. A pleasant hour passed before we knew it and it was time to go. The caution to tread easily and respectfully stayed with me as I waved goodbye, leaving our front door open for our guest to pop in at anytime.
The weeks moved on and Olive continued to make the occasional stroll down her pathway and across the road, her frail hand waving in the air as she passed by. Now on return from her short stroll she would call in, first giving the door bell a quick two beeps before walking in through the open porch way. We loved to see her and she began to believe it! On leaving, there would appear that quiet smile and then the direct look that seemed to speak of private pain.
It was a month or so later, when Andrew called to the house to introduce himself. He stepped into the living room where he told us of his cousin's illness and his concern. "She won't go into a home for the elderly. She dearly desires to stay in her own home." The following question was put to us. "Would you assist Olive for a few hours a day and see how it goes?" How could we refuse. If this was Olive's request we were happy to do so. Andrew was delighted and said he must thank Mrs Gorman for telling him. "Telling you what?" I asked curiously. "Well, that you had worked with the elderly and you might..." At my raised eyebrow, a light pink colour flooded the gentleman's face and words stuck in his throat. We had yet to meet Mrs Gorman ...but she seemed to have already made her enquiries!
We went over to the house. At first I thought I should just go ahead and do a few minor chores but on second thoughts from my experience of working with the elderly it was always better to ask rather than assume. "I don't mind you dusting the shelves downstairs, but there are quite a few books and ornaments so it may be a lot to get through!" Once Olive knew our intentions she relaxed more and I set to dusting while Therese assisted Olive with washing and dressing. It was while dusting a book shelf that I saw the beautiful soft white leather-bound book hidden behind some encyclopaedias. A book that spoke of something private and intimate. I went upstairs to Olive. She looked at what was in my hands and invited me to sit down. She opened the book, looked at it quietly for a moment and then closing it again lay her head back gently against the pillows. "It is my keepsake of my act of consecration to the Sacred Heart. When I was young I made this act of consecration. Some years later I got married. However, six months into the marriage, I ran away from my husband and fled home to my parents to this very house where I remain to this day." Her eyes looked up at me and I remained silent as she continued. "My mother welcomed me with 'I told you so,' my father welcomed me with a warm embrace." Then she gave a sad smile. "I haven't been to Church in a while, neither have I been to confession. This old heart is tired. Life moves on."
I couldn't sleep much that night and I prayed that God might enlighten me as to how I could help Olive. I kept thinking of the beautiful leather-bound book containing the inscribed writing of her act of consecration at the age of sixteen, and I fell asleep.
The next evening, sitting with my elderly friend, perhaps the answer came. "Olive, you gave your heart to the Sacred Heart, and asked that He might be your guide?" "Yes," she nodded. "Then", I went on, "if this is so, and if you will forgive me for speaking on a personal note, would it be right to say that the Sacred Heart always really was your first love, the love that leads love?" "Okay" she nodded. "Well," I continued, holding my breath, "I can't help but feel the Sacred Heart wants to be with you again in a very special way. He knows your pain of so many years and He knocks on the door of your heart asking if you might let Him in again?" She closed her eyes signalling a need for a little sleep. I closed the door quietly after me and felt my little part was done, but not sure if I had done it right! It was just Olive and the Lord now.
The next day Olive phoned across to say that she did not need any help anymore as she felt she was now recovering. I resigned myself to the fact that I had spoken out of turn. It was to be a while before our friend rang again but not too long!
"I called the priest and he will be here in a few hours, I would like some help to get ready, if you are free, and have a tea tray set up for my guest." Olive was back in form! I had just put the tea tray on the table when the door bell rang. It was Fr. Bradley. His interest in her beautiful garden was a wonderful introduction to Olive and I left them chatting as I raced across the road to check the roast chicken in the oven. Later on, I popped in to see our neighbour who had settled down for the evening. As I walked into the room I couldn't miss the new light in her eyes and the peace in her resting. "Everything's fine" she smiled.
The door across the road gave a loud bang and I rushed out to meet Olive as she was passing by. She followed into the kitchen to hear our news. "We're leaving the neighbourhood, moving to the country. It's just been confirmed today!" Olive didn't seem surprised and nodded in understanding. Our tea time together that evening was without any trace of sadness - real friendships are built on trust.
To our joy, Olive visited us in our new place in the early summer. Unknown to us then, it was to be the last time we'd meet. On 6th November, Andrew phoned. He had sad news. His cousin had passed away peacefully in her sleep, in her own home at the age of eighty two. I put down the phone and picked up the beads. I was on the second decade of the Rosary when I stopped and thought of the soft white leather-bound book. Peace filled my heart as I inwardly said farewell to a soul who was always destined to be with the Sacred Heart. Rest in Peace Olive.


  1. Hello Frances. Ireland's a good way off, but the home of many of my ancestors. A wonderful story of reconciliation today. I would like to ask, what is an "act of consecration to the Sacred Heart"? I am not a cradle Catholic, and sometimes things are not very clear to me that might be second nature to someone raised in the Church.

  2. Dear Penny, thanks for your comment. Firstly best wishes and very belated welcome into the Catholic family!
    An act of consecration (to the Sacred Heart) means setting oneself aside for the service of God. This of course can mean as a lay person, religious or priest according to your way of life.
    There are different versions of the prayer of consecration, from a simple act of offering oneself in morning prayer to the Sacred Heart, to the prayer of St. Margaret Mary.
    Margaret Mary, a religious sister in France, made known the devotion to the Sacred Heart after revelations given to her by the Lord in 1672/1673.
    The devotion was officially recognized and approved some years later by Pope Clement XIII in 1765.
    On June 11, 1899, in what he referred to as "the great act" of his pontificate, Pope Leo XIII solemnly consecrated all mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
    Margaret Mary was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.
    The First Friday of every month is devoted to the Sacred Heart and the month of June is especially so with the Feastday (this year) falling on 19th June, the same date our present Pope has named 'the year of the priest' to begin.
    Many Irish families have a picture of the Sacred Heart in their homes. The practice going back to the famine times and days of emigration. It was common practice when dedicating the Image, to ask God's blessing and protection on their home and family. The names of each family member was written on the scroll below the image of the Sacred Heart and signed by the priest. First there was the blessing of the home, the image then blessed, and placed on the wall of the family kitchen. and finally the act of consecration and prayer of thanksgiving.
    Perhaps your ancestors were a part of that special devotion! Your reception into the Catholic Church is, it seems a providential step guided by grace!
    Best regards, Frances.

  3. Most assuredly my journey into the Church was guided by grace. God is merciful beyond my telling. Thanks for the answer, now I'll be able to celebrate this Feastday - and actually know what I'm celebrating! Very neat to think that my Irish ancestors (who were indeed Catholic) may have been part of this devotion.