She is one of the most beautiful expressions of womanhood I have ever met and in that she was also a most beautiful expression of who God is. With her I felt safe and redeemed, loved and admired.
As I write these words my soundtrack is playing Robin Mark’s ‘When It’s All Been Said and Done‘ and I have only a short while ago received word that Helen died during the night, finally a great release for her but what a loss for her family. My Mass this morning was for her, the readings so appropriate. As I went to bed last night praying for Helen I thought of the heavens being torn apart at the Baptism of Jesus, the Spirit of God descending, “…Beloved… my favour rests on you.” Similar to what is in the first reading at Mass today – St. Stephen in his agony saying, “I can see heaven thrown open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”, a reflection of what Helen must have been experiencing in her own agony at that time. “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.”
Father Derry has been a good friend of Helen over the years. He prayed with her last night and at the end of the prayer she said, “thank you Jesus for everything!” The previous evening I was blessed to get to see her. Having been at Emmaus in Swords for a Living Family retreat I thought I could not go home without seeing her. In that brief visit, though very weak, she was fully alert, squeezing my hand as we prayed. I kissed her head and said, “I love you.” She said, “I love you too.” The words of the departing are sacred.
“When it’s all been said and done, there’s just one thing that matters, did I do my best to live for truth, did I live my life for You? When it’s all been said and done… only what I’ve done for love’s reward will stand the test of time” so sings the song.
Helen’s very essence is a “yes” to the question and the statement of the song. She lived for Truth and she lived for Love. Jesus Himself is her Truth and her Love, whether it is the Truth of the right to life of the unborn or the Love she had for her own family, her pride and joy, her love for the rest of us, her constant concern. She felt life deeply, often to the point of tears and she had a smile of joy that lit her eyes.
A fearless warrior in the cause of good and right, compassionate, understanding, forgiving. And she was Pallottine to her fingertips, part of our Pallottine family for many years, bringing busloads of people to our centre in Thurles so that they might find healing and solace for their lives, an active and central member of the Union of Catholic Apostolate. Her last months were an apostolate of suffering. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years but we communicated by text and these were full of her gratitude, appreciation for the prayers and support and especially for the Masses offered. “…you will never know how much your text this morning meant to me. Thank you for offering the Mass for me, it is the greatest gift I could ever receive” she wrote when it was becoming clearer that the treatment wasn’t working.
It was a blessing to have known her in this life and without her life is somehow less for all whom she touched, especially those who were privileged to be close to her. May she rest in peace.
That same night, the early hours of Tuesday May 7th, only a couple of hours after Helen, Jean Vanier died. He too was a great lay apostle of our time.
After I joined the Pallottines in 1972 the first two books I bought were ‘With Open Hands’ by Henri Nouwen and ‘Tears of Silence’ by Jean Vanier. Both books, both men made a lasting impression on my spiritual life. Little did I know then that the two would become so closely associated years later. In 1977 I attended a retreat given by Jean at Cluan Mhuire in Galway. It was like being present at the Sermon on the Mount. May he too rest in peace and how appropriate that he and Helen should be born to Eternal Life on the same night.
I will always sing Your praise
Here on earth and ever after
For You’ve shown me Heaven’s my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone
Lord I’ll live my life for You
Jesus said, ‘I tell you most solemnly, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. (John 6:30-35)