1500 years of experience in one room

Little_Sisters_of_the_Poor_810_500_55_s_c1I was deeply moved recently when I stayed with a priest in a retreat centre in Ireland.  He offering mass on Saturday evening at a local convent and I asked to join him.  I was a man amongst 30 elderly nuns with varying levels of frailty.  I looked around the room and wondered about their lives, and how they must feel about the demise of their order due to the lack of the next generation, taking vows and joining them.   What must it be like to devote your life to a way of being that once was very important to society then loses its value.  I discussed this with the priest and he said, these women were ‘lions’ in their day; missionaries working with the poor and dispossessed,  nurses and school teachers….each with at least 50 years of experience and 50 years of giving free-work for their cause.  I reflected on this, 30 nuns with 50 years experience in one room…. 1500 years of experience, 1500 years of work, 1500 years of prayer in the same room as me.    I felt humbled and moved, grateful and also sad.   Looking at these frail women, some clearly who had strokes and in poor health, some with bright eyes and smiles…. a way of life was disappearing before my eyes, 1500 years of experience fading away.   I reflected on the contrast between these nuns lives and our contemporary values and working lives; how we are pre-occupied with our image, brands, self-importance,  speedy results,  material success and the fetish of anything new.    1500 years of a counter-culture looking me in the eye, moved me once again to reflect on our own culture.  There is still time for learning from our elders, for giving, for deepening our common humanity and for prayer.