Artwork by Jen Norton, used with permission.

The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth at the funeral Mass for Sister Mary Brendan Conlon on July 26, 2021.

Many years ago, our congregational leaders asked all of the Ursuline Sisters to plan their funerals and wakes. So being the good Sisters that we were, Brendan and I sat down one night in our living room (somewhere among our two dogs and six cats) and started doing that. She asked me to do the homily at her funeral. I said, “No way, Brendan, I would be a wreck.”  So, I thought that was that. When I took her funeral plans out of her file a few days ago, there was my name in the homily line. But I am ready to do this now because aging has not been kind to Sr. Brendan and pain has caused both her and me to ask God to, as she said the other day, “Take me home.”

I have been smitten with the new media series on the life of Christ, “The Chosen.” There is something about this media event that has really appealed to me. So, I have tuned into both seasons. In the last episode of Season two, Jesus is about to give the biggest talk to his life in Capernaum to one of the biggest crowds He has seen. In preparation for the talk, he takes Matthew off with him so that Matthew can take notes and give him some hints about the talk. So, the scene opens with Matthew, his notebook and charcoal stick in hand, and Jesus nervously pacing about. Jesus wants this to be really good. So, He starts with “You are the salt of the earth etc.” and Matthew says no, that won’t get their attention. Then Jesus tries the one about, “You are the light of the world” and the basket thing. Matthew says no again.

Then Jesus says, “Matthew, what I need is a map. I need a map so people will know where to find me.” And Jesus goes off alone and prays. When He returns, He says, “Matthew, write this down. Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers. What do you think, Matthew, is this better?” And Matthew smiles and says, “This is a perfect map. People will be able to find you in the people in this map. Now you can end with the salt of the earth and the light under the basket pieces.”

Now you may not know this, but Brendan loved maps. We never left home without them. We had maps of West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland (the whole East Coast) tucked into the pocket holder of the passenger side door of our white Escape.

So, it is fitting that Sr. Brendan picked the Beatitudes (as we have come to call them) as her Gospel reading, because she has embraced them as her lifelong map. It is through these original teachings of Jesus that Brendan has found Jesus…in the poor, in those who mourn, in peacemakers and in the gentle, in those who have actual hunger and thirst, but those who hunger and thirst for justice as well, and in those who were persecuted in the cause of right. These were hers maps. These people showed her the way to Jesus.

She found Him through teaching young people in their simplicity how to write and love literature with a passion and a purpose. She found him in rescuing helpless and abandoned animals and loving them with gentleness and tenderness. She found Jesus by demanding peace in Vietnam and protesting the wrongs in Central America. She mapped her way to Jesus by way of Nicaragua where she stood in solidarity with the persecuted. These beatitudes, this map, propelled her to West Virginia where she served the hungry, the poor, the mourning, the simply pure of heart. This map led her to arrest and even to jail in the cause of right.

But what about the other readings that Brendan picked for this day? Just as the Gospel reading was appropriate, her choice of Isaiah and Revelations fit her, too. While I don’t think Isaiah knew Gerard Manley Hopkins, I am sure that Gerard Manley Hopkins knew Isaiah. However, Hopkins take a bit of a different approach to the cloud of gloom and how it will be removed. He says, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out like shining from shook foil. It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.” Hopkins goes on to end his poem “God’s Grandeur” with these lines, “Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

And then Revelations tells us that those who die in the faith of Jesus will rest from their toils and trials for their good deeds follow them into Heaven. This leaves me with the image of Brendan having the gates of Heaven opened to her on July 16, (the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) but I think that these gates are not closed yet. And you know why?  Because all the good deeds that are marching behind her are not through the gates yet. They are still coming in on two and four legs and the gates must stay open until they are in. Do you think the gates will ever close?

I want to end with the line from one more poet, Mary Oliver. It is a question that Brendan and I asked each other many times, sometime in jest and sometime seriously, after we read it.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

We know now how Brendan answered that question.