Yes, I’m waking early, Christmas morning, 2002, at 3a.m. and recall waking regularly at this hour, while living at Holy Cross Abbey, year’s before. Now, I put pen to paper to tell a conversion story, unknown to most who knew my sister. I take note of my own in the telling as one nourishes the other.
It’s Advent 1992, ten years before. I mention to my parish priest of my plan to visit my sister in Paris. She’d just been diagnosed with cancer for the second time. He recommends we visit St. Gervais in the heart of Paris. Soon I arrive in the early morning hours January first, and MaryCandace is at the steering wheel as we’re barreling down Paris streets. I recall his suggestion and her immediate response. Without delay, she declares the churches’ whereabouts nearby, and suddenly, we’re at it’s side, parking!!!
An austere, blue, greystone structure wrapped in Baroque time calls us from ordinary travel into a tender light. A man dressed in well-worn attire appears at an inner door, and asks for assistance as we walk-in. Our eyes adjusting to the cool light, the crème-colored walls and colored-glass suspended in-time by large pillars in-formation, This vaulted space, without-a-view, catches us unaware; we exchange glances and walk amidst candles, lighting a way forward. We breath-in sighs of relief and delight as we approach the Eastern-most point of this space, only to arrive at a small chapel, fenced-in by iron, metal latticework. There stands an altar at the back of this little, enclosed room. We enter noticing other’s kneeling, bent forward, and clothed in the reverence of white fabric, on the carpeted, stone floor. The monstrance sits atop the altar, holding a host of unleavened bread for the purpose of prayerful adoration. We, too, kneel. A prayer cries out: ”Please…hold her in the palm of Your Hand!”
Fast-forward to the Second Sunday of Advent, 2001, in the late afternoon. We enter St. Nicolas Church in Ville D’Avray, having walked there together. My sister is short of breath as the parish priest, friends and family greet us. We rise to witness her confirmation, and stand before the altar, this time in the early evening light of Ville d’Avray, the town where Corot painted trees in graceful sway, like her, now, standing in white. Few know of her preparation for this step nor of her suffering or of her weakness as strength as she is standing here, close to the Lord. She’s come to this point in these final years while her body, slowly slipped away. The ceremony passes quickly in this church named after all-children’s, Christmas saint.
The following Friday, in the early evening, we rush her to the hospital. Six weeks later, without warning, she dies Sunday, January 21, 2002, with the Lord and her family by her side. She’s called home with her Spirit renewed, her heart at rest and in peace. She’s held in the palm of His hand in an amazing embrace, of grace, forever.
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