Colleague and friend, Fr Cyril Lovett, recalls the special qualities and talents of Sr Redempta, and how she brightened the lives of so many in the Columban family.
Early in the morning of 27th February 2020, Sr Redempta Twomey died at the Columban Sisters Nursing Home in Magheramore, Co Wicklow after a long and debilitating illness. God, our loving Father, whom she had served so faithfully, called her home. For forty years she had served as assistant editor of the Far East magazine and over those years she had worked with five consecutive editors. Her Reflections had appeared in practically every edition over those forty years, the last in the December 2019 issue. I know that many of you, our readers, looked forward to reading her articles. She wrote simply, illustrating her points with quotations from the Scriptures, and with stories from a variety of different sources. She was a true mystic, but, like one of her great heroines Teresa of Avila, a practical woman with her feet firmly on the ground. She left it to the editor of the day to put a title on specific Reflections; a selection of those titles gives some idea of the range of subjects she covered: ‘Prayer and Listening’; ‘Giving God Space’; ‘Unanswered Prayers’; ‘Walking in Darkness’; ‘Set Yourself Close to Him’; ‘The Bible: the Book That Can Read Me’; ‘Eternal Life not Rest’; ‘Give Them Something to Eat Yourselves’; ‘The Sacred Heart and our Brokenness’; ‘Living With Trying People’; ‘Time Wasted with God’; ‘Emmaus – God Accepting us as We Are’;
‘Learning About Jade’; ‘The Music of What Happens’; ‘Try a Little Tenderness’; ‘Becoming Divine we Begin to be Fully Human’; ‘Are you a Barnabas?’; ‘Latecomers Welcome’; ‘Snowdrops: Darkness that Nourishes’; ‘Character Assassination’; ‘Let Go of our Stones’; ‘The Challenge of Unconditional Love’; ‘Heart to Heart’; ‘Go and Live the Faith’; ‘Joy does not Simply Happen to Us’; ‘Death – a Translation into Light’; ‘Running to Stand Still’; ‘The Duty of Delight’ … and so many more. Recently I re-read all of those forty years of Reflections and I can assure you that Redempta never repeated herself. This is because she was a true contemplative, constantly praying, constantly seeking inspiration in the Bible, constantly reading the great mystics, the modern masters of spirituality, but also the best of modern literature, and always steeped in the wonders of nature.
She wrote so many memorable phrases like, “The gift of faith is not a bundle of doctrines to be stashed away in a safe corner of life, but an invitation to engage with and trust Someone whose delight we are” or “Today more than ever we need to encourage others on their journey through life. Who can read the heart of another, or know the pain they suffer, the darkness they endure?”; or “Like barnacles the hurts of the years attach themselves to the heart and how difficult it is to be rid of them”; or “God is found as Teresa of Avila said ‘among the pots and pans’. As another writer put it ‘ordinary tasks carry a kind of redemption’ – here you will find him waiting for you.”
There are also lovely touches of humour like the story of the prayerful woman who claimed to have had a vision of Christ. She went to see the bishop. “Did you talk to him”, he asked. “Yes”, she replied, “I did”. “Well”, said the bishop, “the next time he appears to you ask him what was the bishop’s greatest sin before he became a bishop?” About three months later she returned. “Did you see the Lord again?” “Yes.” “Did you ask him the question about my sin?” “Yes, I did.” “And what did he say?” She smiled and answered, “The Lord said, ‘I don’t remember any more.’”
She wrote of a black South African woman running an orphanage for children whose parents had died of HIV/ AIDS. Asked by the interviewer, “What would you like to leave behind as your legacy when you die?” She replied, “When I meet my maker I want to be empty-handed because I want to have used every gift that God has given me. When I die I want to leave nothing behind except a small footprint that might help others to find a way”. And Redempta added, “May we be large in our loving, generous in our service and ready to tread lightly on the earth, our ‘small footprint’ a sign of loving reverence for all his people and for all his creation.”
Redempta also quoted at length from Karl Rahner, the great German theologian, on the subject of death, “The great mistake of many people – among them even pious persons – is to imagine that those whom death has taken leave us. They remain. Where are they? In darkness? Oh no, it is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes filled with tears … Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent … but living near us, transfigured; having lost in their glorious change no delicacy of their souls, no tenderness of their heart, no special preference in their affection. On the contrary they have, in depth and devotion, grown larger a hundredfold. Death is for good, a translation into light, into power, into love. Those who on earth were only ordinary Christians become perfect … those who were good become sublime.”
We who had the privilege of knowing Redempta, of being her friends and her colleagues at work on this magazine, know that she brightened and enriched our lives while she walked among us. Through her own deep life of prayer, she plumbed the depths of faith and then shared her insights in simple, clear prose under the broad title of Reflections. For all that you are now, and for all that you have been for us, we can only say, thank you Redempta.
Fr Cyril Lovett is a former editor of Far East.