Bristow, Virginia lies slightly to the east of the Shenandoah Valley. Nevertheless, the lyrics and melody of this plaintive ballad have come to mind again and again since we received the Sunday afternoon news that a Sister of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Bristow was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident. Two other Sisters were critically injured. Since then, our hearts have been heavy as we mourn with our Sisters in Virginia.
Although these Sisters live hundreds of miles away, they are family to us. Many of our Sisters know various Bristow Sisters. Some of us have spent time in Bristow. Some of their Sisters have visited here. Yet even beyond these personal connections, a Benedictine bond is present that connects us to the Bristow Sisters and to Benedictines around the world. We are family. A very large family, but a family nonetheless, and when one mourns, we all mourn.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” There is a kind of Benedictine corollary. Wherever one of us travels, the rest of the community is with them in a kind of spiritual presence rooted in spiritual kinship. When I attended the recent workshop at Annunciation Monastery in Bismarck, I felt the prayers and support of my Cullman community so strongly that it was almost as if they were present with me. When Sister Lynn Marie attends the funeral of Sister Denise later this week, the Bristow Sisters will know that she is not there just on her own behalf, but that the love and support of our entire Sacred Heart community is present with her.
Our connection is deep and real, rooted in our common faith and in our rich Benedictine heritage. We have a bulletin board filled with the newsletters of other Benedictine houses, as well as announcements of their professions, deaths, and other significant events. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. When one mourns, we all mourn.
Ultimately, though, this Benedictine connection is not merely insular. Our common faith and love for God impels us ever outward, to embrace the joy and suffering of the entire world through our monastic prayer and the needs of our local communities through our work and ministry.
And now, we rejoice in the life, the faith, and the loving ministry of Sister Denise. We mourn her tragic death. We hold the injured close in prayer. And always, we walk humbly through this life – sometimes through a verdant valley like Virginia’s Shenandoah, and sometimes though a vale of tears – yet always walking together, with our Lord here among us.
Postscript: The lyrics of Oh, Shenandoah, while not religious per se, nonetheless convey well the sense of longing we Christians would see as a longing for our heavenly home, for the courts of the Lord, for the loving embrace of God with which Sister Denise was surely welcomed…
I long to see you,
And hear your rolling river…
[and] see your smiling valley…”
(Note: First and third photographs are from the Shenandoah Natl. Park website – used per site permission.)