When our daughter was in the seventh grade, her science class hatched out some chicken eggs as part of a science project. As the school year was drawing to a close, our daughter asked if she could bring home one of the chicks – a cute little peep. Since we lived outside the city and had a few acres of land, we decided to “adopt” the baby chick. For some weeks the little peep lived his life in a box under a light to keep our baby chicken warm.
Aware that our growing peep would need a more secure and spacious home than the cardboard box he or she was living in, my husband started building a chicken coop. We still have that original coop, having moved it to our newer home. Over the years the original coop has deteriorated as you can see – it was once painted a bright spring green. It was quite a nice coop “in the day” when the wood and the paint were fresh. Now the old coop is used for storing wood to keep it dry for when it is needed.
Day by day the little peep grew. Of course, we had hoped the chick was a hen – my husband had dreams of fresh eggs for breakfast. But as luck would have it, the chick was a male. Sexing baby chickens as we later discovered, is a special art and not one which we have ever learned. As the chick continued to grow and then started to crow, we knew that our cute little chick was a rooster. My husband named the little rooster “Doofus”.
Having adopted a rooster, it was necessary to find some hens. Roosters have no known use except to make noise, fertilize the hens’ eggs and sadly, to serve as food. We were able to purchase two young hens of laying age and named them Henny Penny and Miss Chicken. Now we had a happy chicken coop! Day by day our hens gave us fresh eggs – one apiece. Minute by minute Doofus let us know how special he really was with every loud song he sang.
We purchased books about chicken husbandry as we were curious about how often roosters crowed, the best food to buy for raising chickens and when to be concerned about the chickens’ health. Roosters crowed, according to one book, when the barometric pressure changed; another book said roosters crow in the early morning when the sunlight appears over the horizon. Given how often our rooster crowed, we surmised that the “instruction books” were either all wrong, or we had a rather remarkable rooster. We know now that Roosters crow when they have a mind to – even in the dark. Doofus was usually quiet at night, but a passing car on the dirt road alongside our property late at night could encourage Doofus to raise his voice in song. Once Doofus started singing, it was hard to stop him, such was his desire to “proclaim glory to God.”
It became apparent that two hens for this incredibly busy and exceptional rooster were not enough. Due to the way roosters “impregnate” hens, the hens started looking raggedy with lots of their feathers missing from all the rooster’s activities. So before long we bought a few more hens to keep Doofus occupied and happy.
We purchased a few different breeds of chickens because their feathers or the colors of their eggs were pretty, but we quickly learned that Rhode Island Reds, also called Production Reds, were best for making eggs. Although Leghorns also lay quite a few eggs, their low weight allows them to “fly the coop” whenever they have a desire to do so – which it turns out, they often have the desire to do.
The original coop quickly became too small for our growing flock. My husband built an even larger coop which connected by a wire covered tunnel to the vegetable garden behind a redwood fence that surrounded a storage yard. Within the storage yard we had a small metal shed for garden implements, a laundry line where I hung loads of laundry several times a week, trash barrels, a covered shed for our tractor and other power equipment and the new, larger chicken house. Life was interesting and good for all of us – chickens and humans.
I am sending this short letter with a distant relative whom Mary and I met in Bethlehem – Simon bar Josiah. Simon has promised to deliver this letter to all of our family when he travels soon to Nazareth.
Our journey to Bethlehem was difficult for Mary, since she was so heavy with child. We could not keep up with the caravans traveling to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Mary rode our donkey for the bulk of our travel which slowed the pace of our journey to Bethlehem. We were often alone during the days and nights of our travel, but our merciful and gracious Lord protected and sustained us. Mary and I arrived safely even though the journey took much longer than we had anticipated.
Mary and I could not find proper lodging when we arrived, since so many people had arrived in Bethlehem ahead of us. A kind soul pointed out the grottos on the hillside outside of Bethlehem where sheep were sometimes sheltered at night. We were able to find an empty cave which was a warm and quiet place, and Mary was delivered safely of our Son. We named the child Yeshua at His circumcision. He is a strong and healthy child.
I was able to find lodging for us in Bethlehem a few days after the child’s birth, as most of those who had come for the census had now returned home. It is a small living space, but it is quiet and secure. Both Mary and the child are doing well. God’s Providence has been guiding us throughout all this time of difficulty. May the Lord be praised!
I have found work to help support us while we await the time of Mary’s Purification. Mary and I look forward to returning home to Nazareth once this time of waiting is over. The child will be stronger as will Mary, so I am hopeful that the return journey to Nazareth will be safe for both Mary and the child.
Please give our sincere thanks to our new found relative Simon when he visits with you. He has been helping our little family more than I can say in this short letter.
In the early 1970’s my family purchased a bluebonnet covered 4 acre lot on a windy hill just south of Round Rock, Texas and had a home built there. We lived on that property for more than 20 years. The only trees on the property were a few scraggly hackberries along the barbed wire fence bordering the dirt road which ran by the property. Eventually we were able to plant several live oaks and coax them to survive in the heavy clay like soil.
From the back porch of the home we could see the spire of the Palm Valley Lutheran Church along Highway 79 in Round Rock. To the south of the home we could see another hill, similar to ours – mostly barren, except for the fence line hugging hackberry trees and the ever present scrub grass. Just south of that hill was the growing suburban city of Pflugerville.
What was most interesting about our location on that windy hill was our being able to enjoy the majesty of the changing sky. In the fall we could watch as the growing thunderclouds, which announced cold fronts, marched slowly our way. In the summer we could see the thunderclouds coming in off the Gulf of Mexico bringing much needed rain to Central Texas.
Our home in Round Rock had a well which served us for our water supply. When we first moved to that windy hill, the water level in the well was less than 50 feet down. As the years passed and Round Rock expanded, the pump had to be dropped again and again, as the city drew water from the same aquifer, until our pump was nearly 350 feet below ground level – quite a change in 20 years.
Summers in Central Texas are usually quite dry, so we limited outdoor watering during the summer season. Eventually we added a 5000 gallon water tank to draw and store water when it was more available during the spring. There were few options for us if we ran out of water. It might have been possible to buy water and have it delivered, but even that was questionable during the dry summers.
The lack of water and the infrequent summer rains led to great anxiety for me. One spring I had planted marigolds in the small planting area near our front sidewalk. The plants thrived and the blooms were glorious in the spring, but once summer came, the plants began to dry out and die.
I prayed daily that God would send us one of the summer storms from the Gulf of Mexico to supplement our meager water supply. The storms often came tantalizingly close, just to skirt around us when the clouds seemed just a mile away and reform and rain heavily north of us over Round Rock. This scenario played out day after day until one day I lost all hope to save my precious blooming marigolds.
I ripped the plants out of the ground in a fit of anger as I saw another of the summer storms approach. I said to myself – “once again it won’t rain here, I don’t know why I even asked the Lord to help.” In my head I heard the following words loudly and clearly: “You don’t think I can do it, do you, Franciene?” The voice was from Someone who seemed to be laughing, as if God Himself was amazed at my lack of faith and my frequent emotional outbursts, and found it amusing.
Having recognized that the voice came from outside of me and Who was speaking to me, I wanted to find the nearest black hole and lose myself in it. Not having such a hole nearby I asked for the Lord’s forgiveness and have never forgotten the lesson He taught me that day.
The rain didn’t come on that day, but the storms did rain on us the next day. Sadly, It was too late for the marigolds, as by then I had tossed the dried out nearly dead plants in the recycle bin.
The questions I ask myself as I remember this incident: “ Have I grown in trust of the Lord since then? Do I understand that God answers prayers – and always answers prayers – according to His schedule and His will and not mine?”
I am still overly emotional. I want things when I want them. I am impatient and selfish. In short, I am a flawed human being and always will be. I repent each night of my thoughts and deeds which did not come up to God’s will for me. I frequently disappoint our God, but for some unknowable reason, He still loves me. For that I am thankful and always will be.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
I have always been puzzled by this passage from Scripture. Of all the men who have ever lived or will live, our Lord Jesus had a heavy burden. He had to carry the sins of all of us. How could His burden be light when He carried the cross with our sins to His death?
Recently I read a reflection written by “Servant of God Walter J. Ciszek, S. J.” and I began to understand more of what Jesus was saying. Father Ciszek was convicted of being a “Vatican spy” during World War II and spent 23 years in a Soviet prison.
Father Ciszek wrote “ It was the grace quite simply to look at our situation from “God’s viewpoint” rather than ours….Not the will of God as we might wish it, or as we might have envisioned it, or as we thought in our poor human wisdom it ought to be. But rather the will of God as God envisioned it and revealed it to us each day in the created situations with which He presented us. His will for us was the 24 hours of each day: the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time….”
Jesus didn’t worry about the Passion which was to come, about the tremendous burden which He would carry to the cross. Jesus lived each day in His Father’s will, dealing with the people, places and events which God the Father has placed before Him.
So what do Jesus’ words mean for me? How do I use what Jesus said in the above passage to reflect on my life and be at peace with the way my life has unfolded?
Growing up in a warm and loving family, I saw my future as being full of promise, and it was, because I was born and grew up in an amazing country and was given all that was necessary to make that future for myself. However, the success which I dreamed about was not the success which I achieved.
I grew up thinking that I was the “bright star” in my family, the one, who like my dad, was the smartest of all of my siblings. While I hoped as a young person to have a prestigious job, to be hailed by others as a great success, my life turned out differently. I became a wife and a mother and later a grandmother, a volunteer in many and sometimes unusual ways in the communities in which I have lived. I worked in my home, caring for my family and the environment in which I lived.
I struggled from time to time with the career which I chose when I married my husband. It was not a career that I dreamed about during my youth, not a career that I ever wanted. I often hoped over the years I have lived to escape from this homemaking “career”, because I thought myself more suited to some other work which seemed more important to me and to the society in which I live. I often thought of seeking outside employment, of finding that perfect job, a job that would provide me with the success and public adulation which I wanted. There was always something standing in the way of my “escape” whether it was the immediate needs of my family, or as the years passed, the lack of advanced education which might be needed for that “perfect” job, and then finally diminished physical ability to do something different than what I had chosen so many years ago.
I have come to see that God had a Hand in my choice of a life’s career. I have come to see that the life that God helped me to choose for myself was perfect for me. I am not famous and will never be so – very few people know my name or ever will. I will never have the public adulation I thought that I wanted as a young person. But I have had the opportunity to develop innate skills and abilities I would not have developed had I worked outside my home. I have not been successful in the world as the world counts success, and yet, looking back over these many years of my life, I have found happiness.
Christ’s burden was light, because He did everything He did out of love. Jesus did only as much as His Father set before Him each day. When each day was over, Jesus thanked and praised the Father for all of the moments of His day. Jesus knew that He was successful in the eyes of the Father, because He had obeyed the Father’s will for that single day – and each day of His life. May I always do the same.
Years ago I made multiple loaves of bread to be given to my family and friends as a Christmas gift – that Christmas was at least twenty five years ago. Some of the loaves were the standard size for home baked bread of 9 inches by 5 inches, some breads were smaller at around 5 inches by 3 inches. Each person receiving a gift of home baked bread was given several small loaves of differing varieties with the addition of one or two larger loaves. The loaves were all wrapped in foil, tied with a pretty ribbon and presented in a gift basket. It had taken multiple days to bake the different recipes, and then to wrap and choose which loaves went to each individual. It was an enjoyable experience thinking about each person who would receive the bread and which loaves might be special to them. The gift was a surprise to each to whom it was given and was well received by all.
I started thinking about this gift of bread as I was cleaning out the kitchen cupboards. I found a half dozen of the small loaf pans (5″x3″) and another seven of the larger pans that were used to bake the bread so many years ago. I haven’t used the smaller bread pans in quite a few years, so they were out of sight, stacked behind other serving dishes and casserole and baking pans. I still use some of the larger bread pans, as I bake bread during the winter months. I haven’t decided what to do with the smaller bread pans. It is difficult to give away things that have a pleasant memory still attached to them.
An old bread recipe given to me by a long departed friend, which had been handed down to her from her mother, provides enough dough to make seven loaves of bread at a time. Mixing that quantity of dough all at once is a physical challenge now, though it has always been a great exercise kneading that quantity of dough. I made my friend’s bread recipe a few months ago and decided then that I wouldn’t make it again – this recipe was the one reason I used to hold on to so many large bread pans.
In the midst of thinking about all these bread pans, their history and the tasty gift breads which I once made, I couldn’t help thinking about the “special bread” which God shares with us each and every time we attend Mass. While the “bread from heaven” is shaped into small, flat disks and is generally tasteless, the “bread from heaven” is a more valuable gift than what I had given away so many years ago.
The “bread from heaven” (Consecrated Host) is very small – only about 1 inch or so in diameter and yet it carries with it an eternal promise. The plain, unleavened Consecrated Bread is our “food for the journey” of our earthly life and is meant to sustain us as we continue our pilgrimage to heaven. Like the ancient Hebrews who were given manna in the desert to sustain them during their journey to the Promised Land, we too have been gifted by God with sustenance for the journey.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 6 we read the “Bread of Life discourse” during which Jesus identifies himself as being the “bread from heaven”. Many people turned away from following Jesus after He had said the following: “unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
During Jesus’ final Passover Supper – we don’t know how long it was after that incident above occurred – we read the following: (Luke 22:19-20) “Then he (Jesus) took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying “this is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.””
In the Old Testament we are told that Jews were forbidden from drinking the blood of an animal, as life was considered to be in the blood and that life was created by and belonged to God. I have often wondered what the Apostles thought of what Jesus said and did during that last meal. Did anyone recoil at the thought of the body and blood which was being offered in the form of bread and wine or look to the others present for an explanation of what was transpiring during that meal? Were the Apostles remembering other covenants between God and the patriarchs? Did they remember that “blood” was often involved in the sealing of a covenant, yet none of those old covenants required the drinking of blood but rather the sprinkling of it?
After the death of Jesus those puzzling words of His must have been in sharp focus for those who had been present at that “Last Supper”. When did the Apostles understand what Jesus was telling them? Did the Apostles connect the New Covenant which Jesus had spoken of with the Old Covenant between God and the Jewish people? Did the Apostles understand the connection between the lamb’s blood on the doorways of Egypt and the blood of Christ poured out on the Cross? How long before the Apostles truly knew that our freedom from sin was purchased by the sacrifice of Christ?
After Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, the Apostles repeated often the ceremony with the bread and wine which Jesus initiated, believing that the words of Jesus not only kept the Lord present with them but by eating the bread and drinking the wine, they were helped on their life’s journey. Each time the first Christians ate the bread and drank the wine, they were renewing the “New Covenant” which Jesus had established, the New Covenant which had made peace between God and man and opened the gates to heaven.
As a child preparing to celebrate my First Holy Communion, I was taught that the Consecrated Host is truly the Lord’s body. And as a child I accepted freely and eagerly what I was taught. Only after many years did I begin to fully recognize that what I was taught as a child is true – perhaps more true than anything else in our broken world.
Jesus is present to me in the Eucharist – the Consecrated Bread and Wine – and continues to love and sustain me as I make my journey in this life. During these last 15 or so years when I have grown stronger in my faith, I have begun to see how Jesus has touched and renewed my heart over and over again through this gift of bread. What appears to the human eye as just a simple bread is truly a gift of heaven. Day by day, even hour by hour, in Catholic Churches around the world, God continues to feed His children with this life sustaining, miraculous bread. How blessed we are to have so generous a God!
How strange the inside of a Catholic Church must seem to those who visit one for the first time! There are stained glass windows, holy water fonts by all the doors, statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and sometimes a variety of saints statues, religious paintings, stations of the cross plaques along the walls, a crucifix, an altar and a gold or carved wooden box in the center, just behind the altar.
The gold or wooden box is called the Tabernacle, and it is the most important part of the Church. Usually hanging from the ceiling or on a stand next to the Tabernacle is a red glass candle holder. The red glass holder has a flame burning inside when the Consecrated Hosts are present in the Tabernacle. Catholics believe that the Consecrated Hosts are the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last evening when listening to an online lecture, the presenter mentioned a stoplight – the red light which we see at every major intersection. When the stoplight is red, we know that there may be danger present. We have to wait our turn to proceed. After hearing the presenter’s words about the stoplight, my mind mysteriously jumped to the red glass candle holder in the Church. I saw a connection between the red glass candle and the red stoplight even though they are entirely different things. They also have entirely different meanings – or do they?
Several years ago my daughter faced a difficult surgery. Since it was day surgery, I had volunteered to stay at the hospital and bring my daughter home once the surgery was completed. After the staff had taken my daughter to the surgery suite, I was told to wait in the large waiting area where the surgeon would speak to me after the surgery. The waiting room was very crowded and noisy, as it was early in the day and most surgeries were done in the morning.
I was worried about my daughter. The outcome of this dangerous surgery could make my daughter’s life much more difficult – she was and still is a single mom with a young son to raise. I tried to pray while I sat in the waiting area, but the noise level was too high to concentrate. I decided to look for the hospital chapel and spend some time there. The chapel was a stark and cold place, sparsely furnished with a very contemporary look to it. There was nothing inviting in the room. I took a seat in the back row and began to look around, trying to quiet myself so that I could lift my heart in prayer. In the far right corner was a carved wooden box and just above the box was a red glass candle holder. There was light coming from the flaming candle. I began to cry, as I knew then that I was not alone. The Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, was there in the Tabernacle with me to accompany and comfort me, as I waited for the result of my daughter’s surgery. I spent some time in the chapel, though I don’t remember how long I was there. When I returned to the waiting room, it was nearly empty and now quiet. Some time later the doctor came to tell me that all had gone well with the surgery and that my daughter would be fine.
As I pondered the image of the red glass candle last evening while the lecturer continued his discussion, it occurred to me that like a red stoplight, I should stop and wait when I see that there is a flame in the red glass candle holder. Rather than being a sign of danger as the red stoplight is, the red glass candle in our Catholic Church is an invitation. The Lord Jesus is inviting me (and all His children) to “stop and wait” and be quiet in His Presence. No matter what my problems are, no matter how I am feeling, He is with me. I need not be afraid.
As part of an assignment for my weekly Bible study, each of us were encouraged to write our own Psalm. Given the times we are living in and through, an appeal to our gracious and merciful God is needed.
You have always been our shepherd.
Lord, God of Hosts.
You feed us and watch over us.
Your gather Your children in Your Arms,
And keep us close to Your Heart.
Ravenous packs of wolves surround us now.
They fence us in and seek to enslave us.
They would devour and destroy us.
We are alone and afraid.
But You, O Mighty God
You hold all things in Your Hands.
All the world is Yours,
For You have created and sustain it.
Come down from Your Heavenly throne.
Scatter and destroy the wolves who threaten Your flock.
Lead us once again to Your pastures where we will be safe.
Is it possible to place a value on a human life? Is it reasonable to do so? Our secular society does and then calculates human value based on a wide set of criteria – a combination of social class, family connections, educational level (preferably at an elite university), political affiliation, employment status (level reached and at an “appropriate” or approved agency or company), the location or the state in which one resides. Sadly, not many of us are considered valuable by our secular society.
My faith teaches that God doesn’t measure human value as our secular society does. Every human life to God is precious and of inestimable value. He has planned for each of us and knows us even before we are growing in our mother’s womb. God does seem, however, to prefer the childlike, the innocent, the outcasts, the sinners who know they are sinners, and the downtrodden. Even a cursory reading of the Bible can pick out a dozen or more individuals who received “special treatment” from God in the Old Testament as their life situation or their personality was not what was admired or acceptable even for the time in which they lived.
Here are a few examples: Abraham and his wife Sarah, though wealthy but already old and childless without a proper heir became the ancestors of all of God’s people, Joseph, youngest son of the patriarch Jacob who was sold into slavery by his brothers and later saved his people from famine – including his repentant brothers, Moses, who murdered an Egyptian but was called to lead the Israelites to freedom from Egypt, Rahab, a prostitute and innkeeper, who hid the Israelites and helped them conquer Jericho, Hannah, a barren older woman, who gives birth to Samuel the prophet, David, an Israeli shepherd boy who with God’s help killed a giant Philistine warrior and became Israel’s greatest king, Deborah, a widow and judge of Israel who saved her people, Gideon, a reluctant and timid leader encouraged by God to battle Israel’s enemies, Esther, a captive Jewish orphan, who became a queen of a foreign nation and saved the lives of her people, Naomi, a widow, who had lost her husband and sons and was in living in a foreign land, and Ruth, a Moabite, an outsider, who became the grandmother of David and through David an ancestor of Jesus.
Stories abound in the New Testament of Jesus reaching out to sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and those desperately ill. Jesus’ preferred friends were generally uneducated, or those with personal flaws or serious sins who later became His greatest disciples and willingly gave their lives for their faith in Him. Many of those who were educated and elite – the ones who were the most valued by society in Jesus’ time – turned away from the Son of God and chose to follow their secular culture’s norms.
So what is this discussion all about? Why ask all of these questions about human value? I was reflecting about a story a friend related recently about my sister Jill, and in doing so, I thought about me, about God taking someone – my youngest sister Jill – who was small and unimportant in this world, as I also am, and using her to break through my stony heart and change me, to give me, as it is said in the Bible, a true heart of flesh.
The death of my youngest sister Jill was very traumatic for me. Jill had been ill for years and finally succumbed to her illness in 2019. Since the rest of the family, including two other younger sisters had predeceased Jill, I was the only immediate family left. Jill and I had never been friends, even before the rest of the family passed from this life. There were more than 11 years between Jill’s birth and mine. We had little in common in the lifestyles and choices we had made or the way in which we thought about the world. Jill had led a most unusual life, much different than my other sisters or myself. However, over those five years during which Jill and I were thrown together by circumstances, I had come to know and appreciate Jill, to see her “value”. We had begun to enjoy one another’s company during the last weeks of Jill’s life, and I came to appreciate the remarkable and courageous person she was and is.
Taking time out of my already busy life, building a relationship with Jill and caring for Jill’s many needs which escalated as the years passed was difficult for me. And yet I was so bereft when Jill died that I did something which I had never done before. When I prayed for Jill after her death, I asked God to send me a sign that my little sister Jill was safe at home with Him. I received not one sign but four separate signs in a short span of time. The strength of the signs and their unmistakable conclusion was proof that Jill had passed into the arms of God and was safe with the Lord and with the remainder of my family.
More than two years have passed since Jill’s death. I pray for her as I do for all of my family each and every day. I have even designated the first three Hail Mary’s in my daily rosary for my sisters. I wish my sisters good morning and good night every day and often remind them that I am still here and in need of their prayers. I visit the cemetery where Jill is buried now and again, though not as often as I should. Since mom, dad and Christine are buried in San Angelo, I seldom visit there anymore – it is a more than three and a half hour drive from my home. Jean had directed that her ashes be scattered at her death, so there is no way to visit her gravesite. I like to think that Jean must be blowing around somewhere nearby when the wind is howling.
I was surprised and delighted recently when a good friend called to tell me that she had a story about my sister Jill. My friend, Kathy, had attended Jill’s funeral two years ago. After the ceremony I gave each of the attendees a handmade rosary as a remembrance of my sister. I also wanted the attendees to know how grateful I was for their companionship and prayer during those last difficult days of Jill’s life. Their prayers for Jill and for me helped to sustain me and give me courage to face what had to be done for Jill while she was alive and after her passing.
Kathy is part of the St. Vincent de Paul ministry in our parish. She is often called upon to visit with “clients” who have fallen on hard times. The ministry provides food, shelter and comfort for those who are in need. One day last week Kathy was called upon to visit with a new client who was living in her car. Besides bringing the client money for food and gasoline to “tide her over”, Kathy had the sudden inspiration to take the rosary which I had given to her at Jill’s funeral. Since Kathy has other rosaries, the gift rosary had been safely stored away in the drawer, ready to be used when needed. The homeless woman was delighted with the gift of the blessed rosary, as she had often prayed the rosary in the past.
Knowing that the rosary which was given out at Jill’s funeral has made its way to someone who had need of it reminds me that God really is in the little details of our lives. He is aware that many handmade rosaries are waiting in my studio, and He already has a plan for each one of them. And the life of my youngest sister Jill had more importance than I knew, because even two years after her death, items, like the handmade rosary given out at her death, continue to affect the lives of others.
In her life Jill had often reached out to those forgotten by society; she had friends who most people would be afraid of, ignore or look down upon. I learned only after Jill’s passing that my youngest sister was very generous with her time and her possessions, more so than I had ever been. Jill often gave things away to someone in need which she herself had treasured or needed. In the eyes of our Creator my little sister Jill may have been among His favorites, just like the New Testament individuals cited above, for she obeyed His commands to love even those society considers unlovable. So I am left wondering about myself and how I am following God’s plan for my life.
I have been remiss in not writing to you or even visiting with any of you for some months. Please forgive me. I have thought of you all often and lifted you up daily in my prayer, hoping that all was well with you.
This past year has been so full and so eventful – difficult, and yes, even wonderful all at the same time. As some of you may know, my husband Zechariah suffered an injury during his priestly rotation at the Jerusalem Temple earlier this year. To those who knew of the injury and offered up their prayers for Zechariah, thank you for your kindness. Our gracious and merciful God has heard your prayers, and Zechariah is now well again.
I was not at liberty to explain anything about Zechariah’s injury until now. What I am going to relate to you is a sign of the miraculous work of our faithful and loving God. It is a story that at times seems unbelievable, even to Zechariah and me who have lived it, yet I assure you that every word is true.
During Zechariah’s priestly rotation in the Jerusalem Temple, something which happened only twice each year, Zechariah was blessed to be chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and to offer the incense during the week of his priestly service. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord, who identified himself as the angel Gabriel, spoke to Zechariah.
The angel said:
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”
My beloved husband did not believe the angel’s promise at the time it was spoken. Both Zechariah and I are old, as you all know, and I am well past the time when a woman can conceive. Because of Zechariah’s unbelief in the angel’s words, Gabriel struck Zechariah dumb. Gabriel then told my husband that he would be unable to speak until the promised baby was born. Zechariah was instructed to name the promised child John.
Zechariah was in the sanctuary a long time after the angel’s visit and when he finally emerged, the people praying in the Temple believed that Zechariah had seen a vision. Not only could Zechariah not speak, but I am told that my husband’s appearance was both pale and visibly shaking after seeing the angel. Who wouldn’t be frightened by the heavenly visitor? We are taught that God’s messengers are both powerful and awesome to behold. When the days of Zechariah’s ministry were completed, my husband returned home to me.
I was worried when I first saw Zechariah. Never had I seen my husband so disturbed nor so physically fragile. I did what I could to comfort Zechariah, to assure him that all would be well. Somehow the two of us would find a way to live out what remained of our lives. When Zechariah was finally able to write down what had happened to him in the Lord’s sanctuary and gave me the angel Gabriel’s message, I was overjoyed at the news.
We have long desired to have a child, praying for the gift of new life every day, as all of you know. We have followed the Law of Moses to the best of our abilities and could not understand why God had not blessed us with a child. Now, thanks be to God, our dreams were to be fulfilled. We know in our hearts that we have been greatly blessed far beyond what any faithful servant of the Lord might expect.
Not many had days passed before I felt the first stirrings of new life inside of me. I had long dreamed of experiencing this wonder, this miracle, but there were times during the past months before the child’s birth when I was also afraid. Would I be able to give birth to the child given my advanced age? Would my child be healthy? How would I care for the child? Would my husband and I live long enough to raise our son? These and many more questions came to me at night, and yet there wasn’t a moment during the daytime when I didn’t lift up my thoughts to God to thank Him for his abundant blessings. I walked each day as if in a dream. The months of pregnancy became for me a time of joy and blessing. The sky was bluer, the flowers in my garden appeared more numerous and more beautiful than I had ever seen them. I lived each day in wonder and in expectation of the coming birth of our son.
I stayed away from you, dear family and friends, because I did not know what to say to all of you. How would I speak of the unbelievable blessings that were being given to my husband and me? I kept my silence for more than five months until that morning when I heard a familiar voice calling to me from the path leading up to our home. It was my beloved cousin, Mary, whom I had not seen in some time.
As most of you are aware, I often visited Jerusalem when my husband’s priestly division of Abijah was in service at the Temple. It was during those times that I came to know my cousin Mary. Though Mary was born and now still lives in Nazareth in Galilee, her parents had dedicated Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem while she was still a child. I was entranced even then by Mary’s simplicity, by her gentleness, her sweet smile and her singular devotion to God. During those years when I accompanied Zechariah to Jerusalem, I grew close to Mary, looked forward to my twice yearly visits and cherished the many moments I spent in Mary’s company.
When I heard Mary’s voice calling to me from the path, the growing child in my womb seemed to leap for joy. I knew in my heart at that moment that Mary not only knew of my pregnancy about which I had told no one, but that my cousin would be the fulfillment of the promise we all heard so long ago. God had finally come to His people to deliver them. Mary, my dear sweet cousin Mary, was carrying in her womb the long awaited Messiah! Praise be to our loving and faithful God who always fulfills His promises!
The months which followed were a time of double and even triple blessings as my child grew steadily inside of me. Mary was such a help to me during those final months. Bending over to put on my sandals was getting ever more difficult. Not only was I old, but the child growing rapidly inside of me made the task more impossible than even age had made it. Before I could ask for help, Mary had recognized the need and had appeared at my feet to tie my sandals. Nothing was too lowly or too tedious for Mary to do. She was at my side constantly, encouraging me, strengthening me, helping me. Mary walked daily in the garden with me, enjoying the beauty of the flowers and plants which grew there. We talked often of our love of our God and the graciousness of His heart and of the promises that had been made to both of us.
During the quiet, warm afternoons that I spent sitting, often dozing in my garden, Mary would sing to me a song she had composed. The song gave me great comfort. I know that you will be blessed by her words as I was:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
And Holy is His Name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones,
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our father,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Finally the moment I had been waiting for all of my life arrived. The pains came fierce and strong, but before I knew it, my beautiful son was born. As the angel had instructed Zechariah, we named our son John. When Zechariah gave his consent to the naming of our son over the disagreement of friends and family who were present, instantly my husband’s lips were opened and after so many months, I once more heard Zechariah’s voice. Praise be to our God who has once again fulfilled His promise!
The child, John, born to us is strong and healthy. Anyone who hears John crying for his feeding can attest to that. As the angel Gabriel predicted in the sanctuary of the Temple, I am certain that John will go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah and will bring many back to our God.
A short time after the birth of John, my cousin Mary took her leave of us. The child growing in Mary’s womb was beginning to show. Mary’s husband Joseph was eagerly awaiting her return, and there are preparations that need to be made for the child’s birth.
I was so saddened to see Mary leave, as she has been such a comfort to me. I know that our faithful God will continue to bless and lead Mary as He has done all of her life. Whatever the years which remain for Zechariah and myself, I am certain that God will lead us as well and that we will end our days knowing that our faithful God is always with us.
In a homily about the Gospel of Luke chapter 1 verses 30-45 Bishop Barron says the following:
“Upon hearing the message of Gabriel concerning her own pregnancy and that of her cousin, Mary “went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country” to see Elizabeth.
“Why did she go with such speed and purpose? Because she had found her mission, her role in the theo-drama…The theo-drama is the great story being told by God, the great play being directed by God. What makes life thrilling is to discover your role in it. This is precisely what has happened to Mary. She has found her role – indeed a climactic role – in the theo-drama, and she wants to conspire with Elizabeth, who has also discovered her role in the same drama. And, like Mary, we have to find our place in God’s story.”
I have heard this idea before, that we are all “engaged” in living out a story that God has created. So I wonder what my role is in this drama? I have already lived out a large part of my portion of the story, so what, I wonder, lies ahead? And how does my part of the story fit in with the stories my loved ones, my Church, my community and world at this time are living? What happens if someone chooses not to take his/her part in the story but chooses something else?
I have been thinking about the roles I have played in my life, some of which are ongoing – first a daughter and then sister, then a wife and mother, a friend, a caregiver to parents and later caregiver to a sister, a Bible study facilitator, an artist, a website creator and writer, a grandmother. How do all these roles fit into God’s story? How does my participating in my faith fit into God’s story?
I have never been a “public person”, never had a public role in the community except for the year or so I served on a community school board or the times I taught community school classes. I haven’t given speeches to large groups or done much besides voting to influence public policy. I have just been an ordinary person – cooking, cleaning, gardening and caring for friends and family. How is that a useful role in God’s Theo-drama? It certainly isn’t a starring role like the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus. How or rather whom do I influence who has the ability to change the society in which I live? Does influencing someone or changing something matter? Is it only important that I live out my role not knowing who or what that role influences, only that I fulfill my part in God’s plan?
It occurred to me this morning that this Theo-drama is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I am not good at putting jigsaw puzzles together. I can usually work on the edge pieces, but I leave it to more experienced and competent puzzle makers to do the rest. What is amazing about the puzzle that God is piecing together is that it covers not only all of humanity and the universe, but it covers time as well. How can it be? A puzzle in many dimensions with an unknown size and shape with layer upon layer and the pieces might rearrange themselves at any time? It is not a puzzle I could even guess where edge pieces fit. How awesome is our God!