As these words were read from the Gospel of Luke this morning at mass, I could not help but meditate on my mother-in-law Josephine's treasures: her faith, and her family. With her death only two days past, it was difficult to focus on some of the celebration, but these words rang out.
Her faith permeated her entire life. She enjoyed beautiful things, but It was very difficult to give her gifts. There was always someone else who needed things more than she did, and so she would send monetary gifts to the St Joseph orphanage in Lebanon for which she raised money, or would buy gifts for those she perceived to be in more need than she. The things she cherished most were religious articles: rosaries, holy cards, statues, candles, relics. She would obtain these when she visited holy places, and then give many of them away to people who needed the comfort. When she came to Toronto last Christmas, she brought a gorgeous statue of Padre Pio which she gave to us. She was a big fan of his. I also have rosaries and holy cards that she gave me, that I will always treasure.
But these items were not her faith. They were like photographs of dear family members, reminders of saints and prayers and devotions. She prayed every morning with a candle, saying rosaries for the intentions of her loved ones as well as her own. She rose very early, starting her day with prayers and then watched the mass on her satellite television feed from Lebanon. When she was here last year, I took her to mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day that was very important to her. It was perhaps the second and definitely last time we went to mass together, just the two of us. It was a horrid night, weather-wise, with high winds and heavy snow. She wanted to get there early so that she could pray before the celebration began. Although the mass was in English and she didn't understand most of it, the last hymn was Salve Regina which she had sung in procession at Lourdes, and I could tell that she was very happy. Her faith brought her through very difficult times in her life. She was an example to me of a holy, devoted life.
Her family was her other treasure. She had six children who lived, all of whom have become successful (in the worldly sense, at least), in great part because of her sacrifice of time and what little money they had. The children went to private Catholic schools in Beirut, and she scrimped and saved the money each Fall for tuition. She, with a grade six education (forced to leave school by edict of her uncle), supervised homework and made sure that the children were well-fed and dressed on the very small salary of her husband, a clerk at a bank. She welcomed all comers to their apartment, serving meals and offering a place to sleep to traveler and especially to priests who found themselves without family on feast (or other) days. A year after the war broke out, against the counsel of her husband, she arranged for passports and travel to take the family to Europe and away from the risks of living on the Green Line. They started over in Paris, on furniture donated by a Catholic relief society. She was the first up in the morning, and the last to sleep. Her family was truly her vocation, and she slaved for their benefit. The result? Two medical doctors, two doctorates, and two successful business people. I remember being exasperated with my two small boys and then realizing that she was able to manage with four boys, two girls, and very little in the way of financial resources.
She died on the Feast of the Transfiguration. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas writes:
In the Transfiguration Christ enjoyed for a short while that glorified state which was to be permanently His after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The splendor of His inward Divinity and of the Beatific Vision of His soul overflowed on His body, and permeated His garments so that Christ stood before Peter, James, and John in a snow-white brightness. The purpose of the Transfiguration was to encourage and strengthen the Apostles who were depressed by their Master's prediction of His own Passion and Death. The Apostles were made to understand that His redeeming work has two phases: The Cross, and glory—that we shall be glorified with Him only if we first suffer with Him. (quoted at catholicculture.org)
By her death on this feast day, we are reminded that her suffering is over and she is heading to her glorification with Our Lord, His Mother, and the saints that she relied on for intercession.
(Art: Transfiguration by Raphael (1520)