Sister St. Lucient stopped teaching in earnest years ago, and was now relegated to the role of occasional substitute. She didn't mind, she was 67 years old and her arthritis would have prevented her from achieving her usual standard of meticulously crafted, hand-written lessons plans for each class, for each day. She had taught Religion to freshman and English to sophomores for well over 20 years, and had earned a break. Besides, the kids of Sacred Benediction High School were different now, more jaded, meaner. Staying out of the classroom was probably best.
Tuesday morning, despite feeling particularly sluggish during the morning prayers, Sister St. Lucient put on her coat, scarf, and mittens and left the convent for the high school. She felt the wind whipping through her as she walked along the cracking pavement, and at one point had to stop and catch her breath. She must be coming down with something, she thought. She'll have to get to bed early tonight.
Mr. Andronici was out "sick" (as was usually the case the week before grades were due), and Sister St. Lucient drew the less-than-enviable task of substituting for his 5th period Health class. The students seemed to light up when she walked into the classroom - it was always a boon to get a substitute, and Sister St. Lucient was by far the most gullible of all of the subs. The kids loved to see her.
Eight kids had already been to use the restroom when Rachael Tucci raised her hand. "What is it, Miss Tucci?" Sister knew it was going to be some sort of wiseacre remark. She'd have braced herself, but she was still feeling so sore, and so tired.
"Sister, what's it like to be a nun?," Rachael asked.
"It's a very rewarding life, dear. It's a lovely feeling of community and service to God."
"But, umm...don't you ever miss being able to be wild?"
"No, I'm far too old for that."
"Come on, I bet you nuns go crazy over there. I bet it's a secret, but it's a total crackhouse." The other students laughed.
"Oh, we have fun, but it stays pretty quiet. Several of the sisters are getting older, you know."
"Yeah, I know. You mean to tell me you don't regret anything? You don't regret not having kids or getting married?"
"Rachael, nuns are married. We're married to God. I don't have any regrets at all."
"Well, that's great, that really is. Can I go to the bathroom?"
Forty-eight minutes felt like a year, but finally, after two spitball fights and one wag actually lighting up a cigarette, 5th period ended. Sister St. Lucient walked slowly back to the office, feeling queasy and stiff. She mentioned to Dr. Twomey, the principal, that she'd be going back to the convent, as she didn't feel well.
Sister St. Lucient could smell dinner cooking downstairs, but couldn't wake up enough to get out of bed. Eventually, Sister Trish knocked on the door.
"Saint? Saint? Are you alright?"
"Mmm? Yes, I'm very tired."
Sister Trish opened the door and stood next to Sister St. Lucient's bed. All the older nun could see was her young counterpart's USA Women's Soccer sweatshirt.
"You sure? There's spaghetti downstairs. You want me to bring some up?"
"No, no, I'm not hungry. I think I'll just go to sleep and have something before prayers tomorrow. Tell Sister Joan I won't be at Devotional tonight."
Sister St. Lucient felt very cold as she heard the door close. Her whole body seemed to be tired, and a sour taste rose up in her mouth. When Sister Patrice would come into her room in the morning, she'd see she'd been dead for hours.
"Catherine? Catherine Mary McGroarty? Catherine, wake up."
The voice Sister St. Lucient heard was deep, but soothing. Sister immeidately noticed she felt far, far better than she had the night before - in fact, better than she had in years. When she opened her eyes, she knew she was no longer in the convent.
"Do not be afraid, for you are in My Kingdom. Nothing can harm you here, for I Am with you."
Sister St. Lucient stirred, and looked directly into the face of God. At once, she knew what had happened, and where she was.
"Oh, my Lord God...," she felt she should show due awe, though she was strangely calm.
"Do not pray to Me, Catherine Mary McGroarty, for you are With Me now. You are at peace."
The room was at once phenomenal and familiar - light streaming in from tall windows, ornate carpets atop marble floors, and Sister St. Lucient resting in a gigantic bed in the center.
"You call me by my name...this is the afterlife..." Sister still struggled to understand.
"You have come Home to Me. We will go on Together."
"Is heaven like this for everyone? My parents? Are they here?"
"Yes, they too live in My Kingdom. But they are not Here - for now you are With Me. This is Our Dwelling."
"You...You'll stay with me?"
"Of course, Catherine Mary McGroarty, Sister St. Lucient. You are My Wife."
"You are My Wife. You have lived a long and devout life, you have dedicated yourself to Me as My Wife. Now, We Are Together."
"I'm...I...I'm a nun."
"You are More Than That now, You Are The Wife of The Lord!"
Sister's eyes adjusted to the brilliant light, and she could get a clearer look at God. As was popularly held, He had a long, white beard, though He was surprisingly trim, and His skin was a sort of nameless, swarthy color. His eyes looked like clear blue glass - no pupils. He wore a long, white robe, and His hands appeared to be on fire. Sister couldn't quite see His feet.
"How...are all the nuns..."
"No, Catherine. While I Can Be All Things to All, I seek One Wife. Of all throughout the ages, I Choose You."
"It's...it's so surprising, My Lord..."
"Call Me by My Name - I Am Who Am."
"I Am Who Am. That is How I Wish To Be Called."
"Yes...yes, I will."
"I Must Go. You will find all you need in This House. I Shall Return before long."
And with that, God was gone. Sister St. Lucient sat straight up in bed for quite a while, dumbfounded by the turn of events. She was the Wife of God. In the distance, she could hear choirs of angels singing their unending hymn of praise. Could she find her late parents? The saints themselves? What was Heaven really like?
Sister St. Lucient stepped onto the floor. While she felt strong and spry, she still looked like an old woman...overweight, vericose veins, swollen ankles. For a moment, she was disappointed that she wasn't returned to her prime, but she quickly reasoned that appearances weren't important in the afterlife. She walked out into the hall, a vast, cavernous, spectacularly decorated place. This truly was The House of God. A kitchen, dining room, and parlor lay further down the great hall, and at the end was a foyer, culminating in massive ebony doors.
That day Sister St. Lucient walked and walked and walked throughout Heaven, but didn't see anyone she recognized. Everyone seemed to know her, however, and smiled very pleasantly. After walking for what felt like hours, Sister decided she should head back. Somehow she knew the streets of The Kingdom and never felt lost. By the time she arrived home, day had turned into a beautiful, warm, clear night. The Kingdom of Heaven was awash in light (electric? lantern?) from inside its buildings, and looked breathtaking.
God was in the bathroom when Sister St. Lucient came home. When He emerged, He looked tired.
"What is it, My Lord?"
"Mmm? Oh, it's Nothing. I Am Tired when I Come Home. Will we eat?"
"I...oh...I don't know how..."
"The Cupboards of The Lord are Bountiful. Prepare what you like."
After looking at the bales of wheat and turines of broth, Sister St. Lucient confessed to God she was not much of a cook. He seemed annoyed, and eventually the two of them simply had sandwiches, with some ambrosia on the side. God sat on His sofa and looked down through the heavens onto the earth, where the 49ers were playing the Jets. His plate was empty on the floor by the couch.
At a time out, Sister St. Lucient turned toward God.
"It would make me so happy to be reunited with my parents. Can I see them soon? I realize you're busy, but..."
"Yes, Yes, We Will. We Will go. I Am Busy Now, but soon I Shall Create an opportunity." His hands continued to flame, but the sofa did not burn at Their touch.
"It would just make me so happy..."
"I Heard You We Will Go. I just Have Some Things I Have to Do." The referee whistled and the players lined up. "This Is a Big Game," spoke the Lord.
By the fourth quarter, Sister St. Lucient noticed the
most of the lights in the Kingdom of God had gone out. God Himself
had been alternately dozing and watching the game for the past hour.
The night was quiet, save for the now-hushed accompaniment of the continuing
hymn. Softly, like the droning of a cello, God began to snore.