A couple days ago I visited my great Aunt, my grandmother’s sister. My grandmother passed away years ago, and I loved her dearly, so it was quite a treat for me to be able to see her little sister.
For a long time I’ve been wondering where my calling came from. I mean, certainly God can call anyone He wants, whenever He wants. But I believe the great graces God gives us in life come often as a result of the goodness of others, especially our own families. The good in us isn’t due to our good decisions alone, it’s also due to theirs.
I’m a priest, and my sister is a Franciscan Sister. Those are two little miracles right there, so I’d always wondered where they came from. My grandmother’s second cousin was a cloistered Visitation nun in Annecy, France for over 60 years. I went to visit her once and was amazed by her goodness and grace.
But it was my great Aunt yesterday who filled in one of the great missing links. We were talking about her father, my great grandfather. She told me how he was a medic in the first World War, stationed in France. While on guard duty one night, peering through the fog, he caught sight of a figure moving about. My grandfather shouted “halt!” But the person paid no attention. Now my grandfather was the type who never had the heart to shoot any living thing – that was why he was the medic. So he went closer and realized that the figure in the night was a nun. She was bent over the soldiers’ garbage heap, scooping out the coffee grinds of the day. She was going to reuse them at her convent. It was then that my grandfather realized the sisters were starving.
Going back to the camp, he filled his arms – he had huge arms – with the extra bread from the soldiers. He brought it to the sister and gave it all to her. From then on, as long as he was stationed there, he would bring the bread and place it behind a statue by the convent. When it came time for his unit to move on, he left a note to tell the sister. The last time he went to leave bread, she had left a rosary as a gift for him.
Later on, when everyone in his unit was getting wounded or worse, they were stationed by Domrémy, France – Joan of Arc’s hometown. He went to the parish Church one day and prayed to Saint Joan, promising that if he made it back alive, he would name his first daughter after her. That daughter was Joan, my grandmother.
Bernard of Clairvaux said that we are “Standing on the shoulders of giants”. I certainly am: my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, Saint Joan, and certainly so many others whose names I’ll only know in heaven. My vocation, my priesthood, is such a gift, but it is not my own.
Makes my heart swell with gratitude. A thanksgiving, not just for the gifts of food and plenty, but even more a gratitude for the gift of those who’ve gone before us, and those who surround us, our families and friends.
Hoping you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!