Dad shocked the hell out of me when he said, “When I pray, it’s to get all my kids into Heaven. If they are not working themselves there, then I ask Jesus to come and get them now before they tarnish themselves even more.” I think about this often. Dad was clever enough to eliminate the guilt of being sinful. Did he really mean it? My father was saying he would rather have his children die than lead sinful lives. What a unique way to make me think about my relationship with Jesus. As a teenager growing up on a dairy farm in Northern Vermont, this message had a profound influence on me. I watched him, and defiantly said in my teenage voice, “Prove it.” And, he did.
It all starts with a loving family, and that was her blessing and privilege. Grandparents, loving and hardworking parents, and the good old-fashioned Irish neighborhood of Chicago’s Austin Boulevard cement her values and outlook on life. Her Irish girlfriends went to church faithfully, and Marysue always tagged along.
My mother personified Jesus with her unconditional love for both her older brother William and me, Marysue. As I stood in front of a large picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which she inherited from her grandmother, I understood her devotion to Jesus and that the picture was a stable factor in her upbringing. It hung in a prominent spot in the living room. The picture tag revealed it was purchased at Marshall Field’s, and it is believed to have been a wedding gift to her grandmother in the early 1920s.
What is it about me, Lord, that scratches my soul, tenses my shoulders and lets me fall asleep with clenched hands? I’m in my early 60s, single and have what’s expected for a woman my age—a college education, a supportive family, nice physical features and some income. My bi-polar disease is well controlled—so why am I not happy?
After four years as a house assistant in Winnetka, Illinois, I returned to Virginia to live in a rent-subsidized retirement home with my aging parents, and to face the truth about my happiness. Oh, my God! Is a rent-subsidized apartment my future? Surrounded by statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and committed to following my faith, I attend daily Mass and pray the rosary morning, noon and night with my parents. My quest was to get an answer through faith to the question, “How can I be happy?”
All the warning lights suddenly turned on. Then the engine died. Heart thudding, I stared at the glowing dashboard.
“God, what’s going on?” I said. “I don’t understand.” I rarely drive at night, but that Tuesday evening I had an important meeting at our church. Now, it was 9 p.m., and I coasted downhill, steering the car toward the shoulder of a two-lane highway with a speed limit of 60 miles per hour. My trembling fingers hit the hazard lights. As I parked near the guardrail, I prayed, “Lord, please keep me safe.” Then I picked up my cell phone and called home. My husband came to my rescue. Strangers even stopped to ask if we needed help. Finally, the tow truck arrived. I thanked God for answering my prayer and chalked it up to “one of those things.” I had no idea then that it was only the beginning.
I credit the Bible prophet, Amos, for bringing me closer to Jesus. I heard reference to him twice before. Admittedly, I knew very little about Amos and the Bible. Imagine me in a Sunday School setting in 1999, and Amos is the name I hear. Curious yet inattentive, I just let it go. Eight years later, I am standing in the same Sunday School setting, and again I hear the name—Amos. Curious and attentive and mad, I hit the ground running.
Who is Amos? Why didn’t I know about him and more Bible folks? If the children in Sunday School were getting it, then so would I in my early 50s. I thank Jesus now for placing me in that setting and for the jolt I felt. His message exploded in my heart and mind. The message I heard was to be an active Christian. I decided to learn more about Jesus through the Bible.
At the time my husband and I married in the Catholic Church, we had both been away from the church for a very long time. Before making our vows, we arrived early to simply sit before the tabernacle in silence. Yet it seemed nothing changed, and we continued to be absent at Mass on Sunday.
A short while later, my daughter and I experienced a profound conversion. We embraced our Catholic faith with renewed hope. This was an extremely dramatic time for us, and I can still vividly remember my husband looking perplexed and expressing his concern, “Joanne, you are changing every day. I don’t know you anymore.”
During this time, I asked my husband if we could travel on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His response was an adamant, “No! Under no circumstances will we travel to the Middle East.” I never asked again.
A simple white robe. Wavy brown hair. A stoic yet kind facial expression. These are the characteristics I and my few classmates at parochial school grew accustomed to. Jesus as 1) a man who 2) calms seas and walks on water and 3) is symbolized as a shepherd taking care of His sheep. From kindergarten through eighth grade, I was surrounded by teachers whose lessons promoted keeping Jesus in mind. Remember WWJD bracelets? I accumulated my fair share of those.
The human face is always fascinating. A person’s interior life can be revealed through his or her face, because the face has a language of its own. Without words, the way we look, smile, sneer, cock our heads, wink, and wiggle our eyebrows speaks to others and manifests our interior lives—whether we are happy or sad, curious or cowardly, scheming or serene. Whenever I see a photo or a painting, I am always drawn to the faces first. That is why my relationship with Jesus entered a deeper dimension with the help of the great artist, Rembrandt von Rijn.