When I was a young priest in the late 1970's, a priest friend and I traveled to England where we had been given the use of a London apartment. Very nice. Everyday we'd leave London by train for a day trip to one of England's Medieval Cathedral Cities, places like Ely, Salisbury, York, Wells, Durham, Bath.
In one of the cathedrals I found the Seventeenth Century Nuns Prayer shared below and brought back copies for each of the sisters living in the parish convent. I stumbled on the prayer again this week and realized that this is a prayer we all can pray - especially if we are aware of our aging.
But we might understand the prayer better knowing that convent living is no walk in the park. Living with people you don't choose (like rectory living) can be difficult. St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower) said of her 19th century Carmelite house: "Sometimes I feel as if I am living inside a volcano," and "If the people knew what went on this house, they'd burn the place to the ground."
The lovely sister painted here holds a lily to symbolize her chastity, and a heart and crucifix in the other, symbolizing Christ's love for her and her love for Christ. Her sweet gaze suggests that everything is calm and bright. But truth be told, when she was finished posing for the artist and returned to the kitchen to do her chores, another sister might well have muttered, "Oh, here's the artist's friend come down to earth to join the rest of us at the sink." Hence her prayer:
Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other's pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the Devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.