An old woman is approaching death. She lives in, and never left, a small village in the Andes. No one outside of her village knows of her existence. Her life was made of hard work, constant poverty, and worries for her loved ones. She is not perfect, but she has the fear of the Lord. She bears her suffering with Christian patience, uniting it with Christ’s suffering as much as her intellect allows, and waiting for the day her long suffering will end. The very idea of the Holy Sacrament being the object of sacrilege would crush her. She looks at the mostrance in the village procession, or during holy hour, and tears of hope and consolation run down her old, wrinkly cheeks. She prays every day for the salvation of her loved ones, both living and dead.
An old Cardinal is approaching death. He lives in a splendid palace. His name has worldwide recognition. His life consists of very light work, very refined meals, and the constant massaging of his ego. He has lost his faith decades ago. He does what all his colleagues do: he enjoys a life of luxury and prestige, avoids troubles, and rubs elbows with the rich, powerful, beautiful and fashionable. The Holy Host is only a wafer to him and to – that much he knows for sure – many of his colleagues. He deals with the matter in a middle-of-the-road, prudent way; so that whoever wins, no detriment will come to him. When he takes part in processions, he is aware of his prestige and high station in life. He never prays for anyone. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. He sees no rhyme or reason in life. He is just glad he is on the sunny side. When he is gone, he is gone. That’s all there is to it.
I think of both of them, almost every day now; as age makes me, slowly but surely, more mindful of death.
The old woman resembles in some way people I knew and, in some cases, loved as a child. The old Cardinal is, well, always the same one, though he gives interviews in many languages, and with many names, and on many topics, very often.
I think of them both almost every day now, and certainly every time I read of another damn interview to another damn faithless cardinal; and with the advancing age, a thought becomes not only intellectually known, but intimately, deeply felt:
what grace it is, what immense blessing, to be that old woman, rather than that Cardinal.
Lord, let me die poor and suffering if needs be; but please, never allow me to lose the faith.