Unless you visited my former parish of Saint Patrick in Colorado Springs, you probably never met Carla Neal. For the past 13 years, Carla served faithfully as the Parish Receptionist there at St. Pat’s. I hired her many years ago to fill this very important position. To be a receptionist in a Catholic Church takes a lot of skillsets. One is to be able to multi-task. One is to be able to be Christ like to all who come into the office, regardless of whether they were Christ like to you. One is to be able to kindly answer the phone and have an incredible listening presence. There as so many other things that this important position demands. Finally, one should have the heart of Christ and a prayerful spirit. (By the way we are truly blessed to have Margaret and Andrea here at this very vibrant parish who fulfill what was just mentioned.)
At the age of 60 Carla had certainly gone through a lot in life. She did have a rich prayer life and a depth of faith that certainly got her through a lot. Sadly her daughter who was pregnant with child was shot and killed and the baby unfortunately died. The gift of Carla was that she was able to allow others to walk with her through those very difficult times and in the years following, especially as the trial and conviction happened.
Carla certainly had the heart of Christ when it came to those visiting the office and would take time to know the name of the person requesting assistance and to find out about their story in an authentic way. She also would also offer to begin to pray for someone and to add them to her prayer chain. She truly believed in the power of intercessory prayer.
Not wanting a lot of attention to herself, Carla in what turned out to the last week of her life, went to the ER as she was having breathing problems and following a diagnosis of both inoperable lung cancer and a throat tumor peacefully asked the doctor what was the next step. He said that there was nothing more to do and that he would refer her to inpatient hospice on the 4th floor of the hospital. Carla, being herself gathered her few possessions and walked upstairs and into the hospice. She died the next day surrounded by her family. Before taking her last breath, she told her family that she loved them, to take care of each other and that she was going home to God.
What impressed me was that every day, she specifically prayed for the grace of a happy death. She certainly received that particular grace. I would encourage you to pray each day for the grace of a happy death. In the work that she did for the last 13 years as a humble receptionist, Carla touched a lot of lives and deeply prayed for them. May we imitate her life of deep faith, deep prayer and deep care for others. May she rest in Peace. Amen.