The Eternal Value of an Ordinary Life

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.

Youngest sister Jill

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.

Carnelian handmade rosary

 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.

A Letter from Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth

To my beloved family and friends,

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.”

Zechariah and the angel Gabriel

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.

Presentation of Mary in the Temple

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.

The Visitation

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.

Birth of John

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.

Shalom dear family and friends,

Elizabeth

The Play’s the Thing

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!

A Letter from Mary Magdalene

Dear friends,

I know that I haven’t written to you in some time, but life has been so busy and so full. Please forgive me for not writing, but you must know what has transpired lately. I will explain as much as I can, but I must warn you that what I write may sound strange and unbelievable to you.

This should have been a wonderful and joyous festival weekend – the annual festival of Passover. While it can be a busy time of year with lots of preparation for the national religious festival, I have looked forward to this time of year for the last three years – since I first met Jesus of Nazareth. He had released me from the demons which once controlled me, giving me my life back and assuring me of God’s endless love. For this gift from God I will be forever grateful.

The re-telling and the re-experiencing of our people’s miraculous release and escape from bondage in Egypt and the gift of our land from God has always been a holy time for us, a time of great joy, a time of praise and thanksgiving to our loving and ever present God. I wish that you had been here to experience it with us.

This year – this difficult Passover – has been troubling and so very painful. Our Rabbi, our Master – Jesus of Nazareth – the one we believed to be the Messiah, was arrested, tortured and put to death by the cowardly Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of our religious and civil authorities. I witnessed the horrific execution with His mother, Mary, one of His disciples, John, and some other women who followed Jesus as I did, as our Master was crucified and died a slow and agonizing death. We all tearfully accompanied Jesus’ body to a borrowed grave, given in love by Joseph of Arimathea, where our Master was hastily buried before the Passover feast began. 

There was no time before the feast to give the proper honor to Jesus’ body, to wash away the blood and dirt, to anoint His body with herbs and spices and wrap it in fine linen. Instead a sheet of fresh linen was placed under His body, large quantities of myrrh placed onto His body and the remainder of the sheet of linen used as a cover. A cloth was placed over Jesus’ bruised and battered face. Then a stone was rolled in front of the borrowed tomb just as the Sabbath and the Passover feast was beginning.

I have been in awe of Jesus’ mother Mary for some time, as I have walked next to her as we accompanied Jesus during His ministry to God’s people. I have spoken with Mary often, enjoying her company, laughing at her jokes and being amazed at the life which Mary has led. Mary’s peace and strength with all that has transpired during the three years of Jesus’ ministry gave all of Jesus’ followers the courage and determination to “walk faithfully” with our Lord. The days were long, the journeys and roads we traveled often dusty and rough. Mary became our role model as she was undaunted in her desire to follow and to serve her Son no matter the physical cost to her. As you must have guessed, Mary is no longer young, but she is still physically strong.

But this week – these few days before Passover – once we understood that Jesus would be put to death, our beloved Mary summoned all of her courage to follow her beloved Son through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha while He carried the cross on which He was to die. Mary then witnessed His humiliation and pain as her son Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross. I could tell by Mary’s facial expression, her tears and her silent, fervent prayers that Mary suffered greatly along with her Son. I will never understand how Mary could stand there beneath the cross so resolute and determined, never flinching from the commands of the Roman soldiers to move away, for she knew that her presence would give her son Jesus some small comfort in His final hours. After a time even the Romans realized that Mary would not be moved, and they relented in their commands.

When it appeared that Jesus was dead, a Roman soldier thrust his lance through the Heart of Jesus. Mary then collapsed into the arms of John, who took Mary to his own home after Jesus was placed in the tomb. I believe Mary is still staying with John and the other disciples since her son’s death.

Once the required time of rest for the Sabbath was completed, my friends and I began the lengthy preparation of materials to give to our beloved Jesus the respect that was due to Him at His death. We purchased the spices to anoint His body, prepared water containers and clean cloths to properly wash His body – all of which we carried with us – and linen strips to wrap His body for burial as is our society’s custom. It was all we could do to finish these preparations given our grief and pain at His loss.

Our tears came so easily – we sobbed and cried all through the Sabbath day of rest. Nothing could assuage our grief and sorrow or help us to understand why our religious authorities were so hateful of Jesus. We all wondered how we would have the courage and strength to complete these final tasks for our beloved Lord, and even more, how we would live out the rest of our lives without Him.

We began our sorrowful journey to our beloved’s gravesite just as the city gates were opened, moments before dawn. It was still dark as we set out, but small rays of light were just beginning to appear over the horizon. The road to the grave is not long, but each step which we took was in great emotional pain, as we remembered and re-lived what had transpired and the difficult task which lay before us. We were in silence as we walked, keeping our deepest thoughts to ourselves. So much pain and desolation and yes, even anger at what had happened, those feelings which came from the depths of our hearts. 

What had Jesus done to deserve this evil treatment – that question replayed over and over in our minds. Our Master was kind and helpful to everyone; He healed all who asked for healing of their infirmities – Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus tried to teach us God’s way, a way subtly different from that taught by our religious authorities, who had made Moses’ Law so difficult that the common man could never follow it.

As we grew close to the tomb, we finally broke our silence and wondered if we would be able to move the stone which was placed in front of the opening. We realized that we should have brought some of the men, some of His disciples, with us. Perhaps the Roman soldiers will assist us in moving the stone, or we thought, we may find someone else who is visiting the gravesites this morning to assist us. 

As we arrived at our Master’s grave, we noticed that the Roman soldiers – mysteriously – were gone – this should not be! Roman soldiers never desert their posts, as it means a sentence of death to them. There was no one around whom we could see, but the huge stone which once covered the entrance to the tomb had been moved away.

Where was everyone, we wondered? The sun had now risen, though it still was not far above the horizon. The air was so still. There was an eerie silence around us – nothing appeared as it should. I was frightened, as were all the women who accompanied me. Should we run to find help? To whom should we go? Finally, shaking with fear, I was able to summon my courage to approach Jesus’ tomb and look in. What I saw I will never forget, not if I live forever.

Easter morning

When there is time, I will write more. For now, dear friends, may God’s peace be with you.

Mary of Magdala

Gospel of Luke Chapter 24

Luke Chapter 24 Verses 1 – 12

St Peter

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

I have read these words so many times through the years. I have tried to imagine the scene, felt the pain and sorrow and surprise of the women as they approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. I have wondered what these “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning” looked like. Would I have been afraid as well and wondered who they might be? I have read and thought about why the Apostles – the Eleven – and all the others – disciples of Jesus would not have believed the women. 

Today as I read this passage I noticed that “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb” in verse 12. No other Apostle accompanied Peter  in this version of the Resurrection account. In the Gospel of John both Peter and John run to the tomb to ascertain the women’s story. In the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark, the scene is completely different. In Matthew the women meet Jesus on their way back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven remaining Apostles to meet Jesus in Galilee. None of the Apostles return to the tomb in Matthew. In Mark – the longer ending – the disciples refuse to believe Mary Magdalen, who has given them the message that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Again no one goes to the tomb to check out her story, and as we continue to read we learn that some disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

It would be so much easier if all the accounts told the exact same story, but then it would seem as though everyone coordinated their “narrative” as the media does today. Each of the Gospel accounts is addressed to a different audience, so that might be part of the difference in the accounts. Each witness, as they do today, notices things that another person does not notice and relates the event in a different manner based on his/her own personal history and way of speaking. The basic story is the same – Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. That is what we believe.

I also found it interesting that Peter “saw strips of linen lying by themselves”. Remembering the raising of Lazarus, witnesses saw Lazarus come out of the tomb bound in strips of linen. This was the usual way Jews of that day prepared the body of the deceased for burial. So was Jesus’ body wrapped in the same way or was his body just covered front and back by a long sheet of linen – one length of the linen placed on the stone, the body of Jesus lovingly placed on top of it and the remaining part of the linen placed on top of the body? If the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus, the second method was used.

Ripping the linen into strips and winding them around the body would have taken considerable time and effort. Given that the Sabbath was fast approaching after Jesus died, it would seem more likely that the linen was not torn into strips, but Jesus’ body was placed on the long length of linen. Using this method would also make possible the anointing of the body later, as the women were prepared to do. If strips of linen were used, the body of Jesus would have had to be unwrapped before anointing and then wrapped up again. Moving a dead body, even if the person was slight of build, requires a lot of physical strength.

My original question as to why Peter went alone to the tomb has no answer that I could find or imagine. Was everyone else too afraid to accompany him or were they all still asleep as it was early in the morning? Peter may have lost his courage on the night Jesus was arrested, but if this retelling of the story is accurate, Peter has certainly found his courage again. He isn’t afraid to go to the tomb where perhaps Roman soldiers are still stationed.

We are told that of all the Apostles, Peter loved Jesus the most. His desolation at what might have happened to Jesus’ body would have been unbearable. With all the tears Peter shed on the day the Jesus died, he might not have had any left to shed.

When I reflect on this story of the empty tomb, I almost always picture the burial places of my parents. If I were told that my parents’ graves had been opened and that their bodies were missing, it wouldn’t take me long to be on my way, to check it out for myself. The time spent traveling to the location of their graves would be spent in tears and desolation, the question “why?” repeating itself over and over again. How could someone hate these two loving people so much as to disturb their final resting place? No doubt Peter thought the same about the Lord he loved so much.

A Simple Joy

Sarah’s necklace

My friend, Sarah, visited me the other day. Sarah knew that I made jewelry and was hopeful that I could help her repair an old and broken necklace. The necklace once belonged to Sarah’s mother. Over 15 years ago Sarah’s young grandson found the necklace and while playing with it the wire broke, scattering the beads on the floor. Sarah had picked up all the beads she could find and put them in a plastic sack. The sack of beads had remained in Sarah’s dresser drawer until recently.

The beads are really pretty and have a lovely lustre to them. The necklace, though inexpensive, was a special possession of Sarah’s mom, and she wore it often. With Sarah’s help, I redesigned the necklace to Sarah’s taste, adding some tiny silver beads instead of the original gold beads, between each of the larger beads. I then restrung the necklace as Sarah remembered it – two strands of graduated beads with tiny beads between each of the larger ones. I was able to make a pair of earrings from the beads which were left over. 

The redesigned necklace is lovely. It is a reminder that something doesn’t have to be expensive to be beautiful.

I was thinking while I was working on Sarah’s beads how special mothers are to us. While in the womb, we hear our mother’s voice and her heartbeat accompanies us as we grow and develop. After we are born we notice our mother’s smell, we feel the softness and tenderness of her hands as she cares for us. And when our eyes are able to focus and notice things, we finally see the face of someone who loves us without measure and has been with us since our very beginnings.

Working on my friend’s necklace has given me such joy. 

Mary as Mother and Queen

The Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven

John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, you mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

The Church points to these verses to teach us that Jesus left his mother Mary to be our mother as well. We all have a human mother, the one who gives us birth, but we also have a mother in heaven who loves us and watches over us just as our mother on earth does during her lifetime.

I have been and still am a mother, I have had a wonderful, loving earthly mother. There are other women, not my mother, who have mothered me on those days when I was desperately in need of their kindness and care. And I have grown to accept that I have another mother in heaven, Jesus’ own mother, Mary, who watches over me as well.

The Church also teaches us that Mary is a queen. When we pray the Glorious mysteries of the rosary, the very last Glorious mystery is the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven. That mystery has been difficult for me to understand and to imagine as I pray the rosary. 

I cannot picture in my mind’s eye what a crown in heaven looks like – is it golden with jewels encircling the crown? Or is it a crown of twinkling stars? I want to see the ceremony and the clothes the Queen wears – are her clothes translucent and iridescent studded with pearls and glittering jewels? Are roses strewn in her path as she walks? I want to hear the music as the ceremony proceeds. Are angels singing and playing heavenly instruments? I want to see the angels who accompany the Queen. I want to see the King as He crowns the Queen. I cannot imagine any of it. I think that it all must be beyond my understanding.

Growing up in the United States the title “queen”, though familiar to me, is not a daily part of my life as a citizen of this country. Great Britain has a queen, Elizabeth, and there are many queens I have read about in history books. But what does it feel like to live “under a queen” as part of the government? What is the queen’s role? How do I relate to the queen and the queen’s work? How can I picture the queen’s daily life?

In Biblical times the queen in Israel was the “queen mother”, the mother of the current king. We see that most readily in the book of Kings. In Chapter two of the first book of Kings, after David’s death, Solomon, his son, is made king. Though the Bible doesn’t describe the crowning of Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, as Queen, we see her action on behalf of the Jewish people. A brother of Solomon, Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, approaches Bathsheba and asks her to intercede with King Solomon on his behalf. Adonijah says in 1 King verse 17, “Please ask King Solomon, who will not refuse you, to give me Abishag the Shunamite for my wife.” Bathsheba replies in the next verse that she will speak to the king. When Bathsheba approached the king, who was sitting on his throne, Solomon stood up to greet her. Then a throne was brought for Bathsheba and she sat next to the king on his right.

As we read these passages we can see the respect which the king, Solomon, has for the Queen – Solomon stands when Bathsheba enters the room and has a throne brought in for her. The Queen sits at the king’s right which is a place of high honor.

So I think it must be for Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is as the Church teaches. Mary is seated at the Lord’s right hand and intercedes for us with her Son – that is part of her role as Queen of heaven. Mary is honored by her Son. This is why we honor Mary. We ask for her intercession for us much as the Israelites did so long ago with their earthly queens. It is not worship, as Mary is not God, and only God may be worshipped. We venerate and respect Mary because her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has greatly honored her.

The Resurrection

The recommended “mysteries” of the rosary for Sunday are the Glorious ones. Mysteries of the Rosary are particular scenes of events in Our Lord’s life. By meditating on the mysteries we come to know and love the Lord more. The repetition of the prayers takes the mind from daily problems and allows our minds to focus on the events in Christ’s life.

Rosary with St. Jude centerpiece

The first Glorious Mystery is the Resurrection of the Lord. We have all read the Resurrection stories. They go something like this:

It is dark with the light just appearing over the horizon, when the women leave their homes early in the morning to visit Christ’s tomb. The women, who were disciples of Jesus and had followed him throughout his ministry, want to complete the tasks that are usually performed after a person dies to honor the deceased. Since Jesus’ body was taken down hastily as Passover was about to begin, those necessary tasks were left undone or incomplete. If we close our eyes, we can see the events as they transpire. 

The women leave their homes, carrying the needed supplies and make their way through the Roman gate past the soldiers who guard it. As the women arrive at the tomb, hoping someone will roll the closing stone away, they notice that the stone is already moved. The accounts go on to tell us about angels in the tomb, about Peter and John being alerted to the possible theft of their Master’s body and their running to the tomb to see for themselves. We see Mary Magdalen returning to the tomb after Peter and John have arrived and remaining there for some time. Mary Magdalen’s grief is without measure, as someone has taken her Lord’s body, not content to have killed him but to have done this unspeakable deed as well. Mary sees a man whom she thinks is the gardener and asks him to show her where Jesus’ body lies. But the man is Jesus and He speaks with Mary and gives her a message to take to the Apostles.

Because of the Gospel accounts, it is generally assumed that the first person to see Jesus after His Resurrection is Mary Magdalen. Ancient stories (hopes or traditions perhaps) relate that Jesus had actually visited His mother Mary first immediately after His Resurrection though the stories were not included in the Gospels. Being a mother that seems appropriate and so natural to me. So I was thinking about this scene of Son and mother meeting after the Resurrection, as I prayed the Rosary on Sunday morning. What would be the reaction of Mary when she sees her Son after His horrendous death? What would Jesus and Mary have said to one another?

I imagine Jesus appearing in the room, coming through a closed door as He would do later that day when he visited with the Apostles. Mary had finally fallen asleep sometime earlier, exhausted after the ordeal of watching her Son’s final hours and death. Mary has spent two days and nights, perhaps prostrate in prayer, grieving for her Son. She had long since run out of tears, her sobs of grief long since stilled. As Jesus enters the room, He awakens His mother, perhaps by a soft touch or by His voice softly calling to her. Mary awakens quickly, as mothers often do when our children call out to us in the night, always prepared to assist our children with hugs and soft words.

Mary and Jesus embrace each other, gaining strength and comfort after the horrible Passion and death of Jesus, grateful for the warmth and presence of each other’s bodies. Jesus tells Mary that He has been worried about her. Even from the cross Jesus had seen how much Mary had suffered. Tears fill Mary’s eyes as she sees that her Son is alive and well. It is a time of great joy for both.

Though Mary would keep her Son close to her forever, Jesus tells Mary that He has much to do before ascending to His Father. Mary wants to accompany Him, follow Jesus as she had done before, but the Lord tells His mother that there are still tasks for her to complete before they can be together again. The Apostles will need her constancy, her strength, her loving kindness and her memories of her Son to guide them as they begin their work after Jesus’ Ascension to the Father. That short visit gives Mary hope and peace, and the memory of that visit sustains Mary throughout the years until she at last joins her Son and God in heaven.

The Greatness of Men

I often complain of the dangerous things my husband does – climbing 12 foot tall water tanks and then falling and getting a separated shoulder will still climb that ladder again, pushing cars over the cliff – well “that”, my husband said, “was accidental”! Then there are the things I have stopped him from doing like taking down a 70 foot tall dead elm tree by himself. When I called a tree removal company my husband was angry, because he had spent hours thinking about how he would do the job and what fun it would be. But I digress.

Women are naturally more cautious, perhaps because of giving birth to and raising our children. The primary role which our loving God gave to women – protectors of the lives which have been given to us, we accomplish through often tedious daily tasks and an abundance of caution. God created men to be protectors as well. He gave men the strength and stamina and desire to do those necessary and often dangerous tasks. Caution was not one of the gifts that God gave to men.

I am in awe of men because of their physical strength and their courage. I was thinking this morning about the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, each man knowing full well that most of them would not survive the day, yet each man, in turn, strapped on his backpack, grabbed his weapon and climbed into the landing craft. The rest is history. Thank God for all of them! May they all rest in peace.

I know that there are some women, who are called to be courageous and strong as men are strong, but most of us are not. I honor those unusual women, as I honor all women for our own natural strengths. I think about nurses who face battlefield conditions to help the wounded – where does their courage come from?

Though I am strong for my age and my sex and always have been, my innate physical weakness, as compared to men, often made me angry in the past. Rather than being able to do what I wanted to do when and as I wanted to do it, I had to call on a man to help. Only when I matured emotionally and began to accept my limitations could I acknowledge my own strengths which are different from my husband’s strengths. There have been times when I have done a courageous or dangerous thing when the life of a loved one was in jeopardy. I wondered afterwards where I found the courage to do that dangerous thing, because I am naturally not courageous – even climbing a 6 foot ladder makes my knees shake and my stomach turn somersaults.

I have been amazed these past few days to learn that some men, all of whom survived multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, are now going back into danger to rescue Americans and those who helped our fighting forces – those our government has left behind. To know firsthand what the terrorists will do and yet face that enemy once again to save a life – who cannot be in awe of these brave men? I pray daily that God will protect these heroes, that He will give them success in their missions and that He will bring them safely home when their missions are accomplished.

The Most Underpaid Laborers on the Planet

Or maybe even in the Universe! Who are they? Mothers and dads are near the top of the list, but Guardian Angels are, to my mind, at the very top. We rely on them every single day, and we don’t even realize it.

Guardian Angel – watercolor F. McDonald

I was reading a biography lately and by page 40 of this book I realized that this individual written about owed his very existence, numerous times over, to his Guardian Angel(s). So I began to think about my life and the lives of my loved ones – how have we been impacted by these special beings God sends to protect us? It is astounding the number of events that I could remember in just a few minutes where Guardian Angels had to be credited with the safety of the individual. Let me list just a few examples that prove my argument:

1) As a toddler my daughter fell into the deep end of our swimming pool and would have fallen all the way to the bottom – 9 feet – where I might have been unable to save her. I had turned my back for just an instant to move the garden hose to another plant and when I turned back, there was my daughter with her legs sticking out of the floating basketball net. How did she manage to fall into the net and not sink to the bottom instead? I quickly pulled a screaming toddler from the net and vowed never more to turn my back on her. She was thankfully alive and safe and is still here with us. Was her Guardian Angel responsible for positioning the basketball net just where it needed to be? Maybe.

Jeannie Age 4 or 5

2) My sister Jeannie, at about age 4 or 5, climbed to the windowsill in my parents’ bedroom and proceeded to sit on the ledge of the open casement style window, her legs dangling outside the window from the second floor. A quick thinking neighbor noticed Jeannie and called our mom. Guardian Angel alert? Maybe.

Jill age 1 or 2

3) My youngest sister, Jill, still in a walker as a toddler, saw an open doorway to the basement and proceeded to roll herself toward it. Jill and the stroller were halfway down the stairs when our dad caught the stroller. Did a Guardian Angel alert dad who was doing something at his workbench in the basement and spur him to action? Maybe.

4) As a depressed/angry teenager – who isn’t at that age? – I decided to ride my bicycle to the Apple Orchard about a mile from our home. I had taken our family dog with us on a leash. She loved to run, so she was the perfect companion for a kid on a bike. My sisters and I often visited the orchard to purchase apple cider from the local factory there, although it was long past the time of the year when it would have been open. I proceeded down the long road to the orchard when the family dog stopped and could not be moved. No matter how I yelled or pulled on the leash, the dog insisted that we return home. So we did. Was there danger ahead? A Guardian Angel moment?  Maybe. 

5) A traffic accident after my high school graduation when mom, my three sisters and I were traveling on the Baltimore Beltway to a department store to shop for bathing suits for our upcoming vacation. The traffic had stopped for some construction when an 18 wheeler plowed into the back of our station wagon. Rather than being propelled forward to smash front end first into a line of traffic, the car with its occupants were thrown 90 feet off the side of the road, down an embankment, missing construction equipment lining the highway. There were a few injuries sustained during the accident, but all occupants of the car lived to tell the tale. Were all our Guardian Angels responsible for saving our lives? Maybe.

SUV resting over edge of driveway

6) My husband has had numerous “accidents” – and I say that lightly – while working around our homestead. I am convinced that multiple Guardian Angels are taking care of him.

a) He fell from a ladder while checking the water level in an over twelve foot high water collection tank and only sustained a bruised ego and a separated shoulder. He could have hit his head on the boulders surrounding the tanks, killing or permanently maiming him.

b) Last summer while moving our SUV into the shade without starting the engine, my husband managed to push the car over the 3.5 foot embankment supporting the driveway which is surrounded by boulders. He was pushing the car with one foot while the other foot rested inside the vehicle on the brake. Somehow my husband ended up lying in the driveway instead of impaled beneath the car on the rocks. He had a severe leg injury but after a few months recovered – somewhat humbled and more cautious, although I don’t expect that to last. Guardian Angel work – undoubtedly.

6) While returning home from my husband’s work after a rain, my car brakes failed. I was driving slowly on a two lane road which ended after a steep decline onto a four lane well traveled, high speed boulevard. My car brakes locked up, and I slid into the intersection unable to stop the vehicle. The car stopped in the center of the grassy median, passing cars and trucks screeching, weaving around me and honking. Guardian Angels on duty? No doubt in my mind – not just my Guardian Angel but the Angels of passing drivers who avoided hitting me.

I could relate even more stories, but I am sure that all of us have multiple incidents that “prove” the existence and presence of Guardian Angels in our lives. What is even more astounding to me than the presence of the Angels is that our Heavenly Father knows us so well that He is prepared for all contingencies to keep us safe while we complete the tasks He has prepared for us. Amazing, awesome and loving Father!