Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch heute
“There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.” C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I mentioned a while ago how my dear old aunt, poor lady, came to stay with us in the final six weeks of her life. (No moral heroism here, mind you: when the hospital says, hop it, because it’s Christmas the day after tomorrow, the relatives had better have their ducks in a row. This is the reality of living in a country that is steadily working its way down the OECD tables.)
We nursed the aunt as well as we could, with flowers and conversation and visits from friends and basin baths, as she faded and dried into a pressed-flower version of her former self. The last day, the process sped up beyond expectation. Her body started shedding fluid dramatically.
(This is really a mercy, since it helps the body produce natural analgesics against the pain, but, still - And also, as a nursing note, if the Hospice people suggest a catheter, don't say, no, you don't want her to get a UTI. )
As she was struggling up to the commode for the last time, she said, fiercely, out of clenched teeth, “I hate this.” Dying, she meant.
Confession was like that. It was like dying, and I hated it.
I can’t quibble with its efficacy, though. When I fronted up, like Hagrid at a Hogwarts school desk, to an old wooden kneeler made for a past generation of smaller-framed penitents, I still didn’t know if I could do what I had to, so I think the grace of the sacrament took over. I asked a blessing, choked a bit and began the sentence that had to be said. “Father, ten years ago, I – “
Do you know, Father was actually sorry for me. After I spilled the rest of my dirt sheet, there was a happy lift in his voice as he gave me absolution. It must be a good day’s work to release someone from soul-killing sin. As he gave me a petit rien of a penance, he said, “Well, now you’ll know how light Catholics feel after confession.”
Well, no, not really, because we Kiwis wrote the book on low emotional affect. To me it was as when, after giving birth to a child, you get up off the bed and find that, since your spine is still an extreme S-bend, normal walking is yet a day or two away.
And yet, if I prod that terrible spot in my memory, the place that used to make me blench, and, if I thought of it while driving, want to wrench the car into the nearest power-pole, there is nothing there. The abscess has been closed over. Thanks be to God.
So on to the happy business of Confirmation and First Communion. I took the name of Monica; may St. Monica guide our adult children into the Church. “If your saint is Monica,” I was told, “all you have to do is pray and weep.”
The confirmation made me catch my breath a little. It’s a closure on twenty-one years of Reformed worship, and it puts me definitively outside that camp, and excommunicate. And I did so think I had the right of it, back when I chose that. Perhaps the difference is now that I think Christ has the right of it, and I have to be where He is. “So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”
As to the wonder of the Eucharist: it’s an odd thing, being (as I often have told you) mumblety-one years old, to be so little again, to look up to see this Person. I fumble for words and fall silent.
The moment of taking communion, though, since that’s when grace meets nature, that I can speak about, at tedious length. Father gave me the Host and then watched with something like questioning as I consumed it. I realized where I knew that expression from, that mixture of absorbed love and concern – will you eat? Do you know how good this is for you?
I recognized it because I’ve had that look on my own face half-a-dozen times, when I’ve approached a baby with a spoonful of carefully confected solid food, his or her first, knowing that when and if the food goes down, life will be forever different.
Here is the beginning of the rest of your life, child. Will you eat this, baby? Please don’t spit it out of your mouth. Do you know how good it is?