We all speak of Bernadette in terms of saintliness. On hearing of her death everyone has said that, if anyone is in heaven, it is she. It’s not what she would like to hear said of her. She would not want to be spoken of in her funeral Mass but she is a living testament of faith. Her life and the gospel of Jesus are inseparable in a most beautiful, humble and happy way. The little trolley that she pulled after her contained her prayer books and of special significance is her well-worn Bible which we used for the readings of her funeral Mass. She is a woman of devotion, a woman of the Word, a woman of the Eucharist.
The first time I saw Bernadette was when I was new to Shankill and I was celebrating the evening Mass. As often happens I forgot to close the Tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Bernadette, who was in there on her own, would not abandon Jesus there. So she knelt in the doorway of the little Chapel with one eye on Jesus in the monstrance and the other eye on the celebration of the Eucharist.
She would not abandon her Lord in any way; she would kneel to Him in reverence and be present to him as He is always present to her.
The last time I saw her was the night before she died when I went to anoint her, even though she was well anointed and very prepared for her death which she prepared for by her whole life. We had this time of prayer together, just the two of us and I felt that I needed it more than her, that I was somehow the one being anointed.
She was physically very weak. It was difficult to understand what she was saying but internally she was very strong, her eyes alert, shining with her interior radiance. And she prayed along with me, word by word; spirit by spirit. Though she was unable to receive I brought communion to her, holding it to her lips so that she might kiss the One who first kissed her.
Then she fell asleep, breathing deeply, while I remained praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet quietly and when I had finished she opened her eyes, blessed herself perfectly and smiled at me.
Before going over to see her I picked a piece of Scripture from the basket at the back of the church. It was a paraphrase of a line from the first letter of St. John – “you shall be like me because you shall see me as I am!”
It’s an appropriate Word in the light of the readings Bernadette herself has chosen for her funeral Mass. The word “see”, the theme of “seeing” features.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:6-9)
You did not see Him, yet she has been gazing on Him, seeing him with the eyes of faith, seeing as in a glass dimly. Now seeing face to face, knowing as clearly as she is known.
And in the gospel Jesus says, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” I want those you have given me to see, I want Bernadette to see my glory.” (John 17:24-26)
The final hymn that Bernadette chose is “Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory”, a seemingly surprising song for one so quiet. But not surprising because she was filled with music, with joy and the hope of glory.
When the coffin was being carried out one of the members of the UAC thought it was held much higher than usual as if it were somehow already ascending to heaven
Bernadette has left us a legacy that we should follow, a way of living the Christian life that we might imitate. A vibrant faith that expressed itself in her love for the Lord, a love that endured without complaint in the sufferings brought on her by cancer; it expressed itself in truth and integrity. She refused to judge others or get involved in conversations about others because she had a profound respect for each person.
And as a Pallottine member of the UAC in Ireland it was appropriate that she died on the feast of Our Lady of Knock because it was at Knock she made her Apostolic Commitment – the first from Shankill to do so – during the annual Pallottine Pilgrimage to our national shrine. The picture placed on her coffin was not her own portrait as is the custom but a picture of St. Vincent Pallotti.
We are blessed to have shared some part of her inspiring life. May her good, gentle soul rest in peace. Amen.
Eamonn Monson SAC, Shankill, Dublin