Courage and Grace

The busyness of Andrew’s Saturday sports schedule was a welcome distraction to the reality of missing the person who has been a central figure in my life for over four decades. As she had taught me, I tried to just be in the moment, enjoying the beauty of the warm sun on my face, the brilliant fall colors of the leaves and the thrill of Andrew’s games. During one of these games, I perused my prayer-book and realized that today is the feast day of the great Saint Teresa of Avila. Mom and I both love her and used to share and discuss her story.

As I thought about the life and legacy of St. Teresa, I realized how much she and Mom have in common. In her famous book The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa describes the journey of faith through seven stages ending with total union with God.  Mom was a life long learner, always searching to become more faithful and closer to the person God had made her to be. She did this through love, daily prayer/rosary, Mass and reading various books which educated and inspired her in faith. I loved talking with her about our faith because the discussions were always interesting, deep and challenging. Mom never stopped striving to purify her soul on this earth so that she could know and love our Lord more deeply.

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Like Mom and many of us, St. Teresa struggled in prayer in her early days. It was not always easy and she experienced periods of spiritual dryness. After a time and with perseverance, she was rewarded with consolations of her faith when God “spoke to her”affirming the depth of her desires to serve Him and his church. St. Teresa blazed a trail and stood up for reform in the church and her Carmelite order at a time when it was needed. Her courage and perseverance served her well and she paved the way for many vocations and conversions.

As a professional nurse, wife and mother, Joan Mary also blazed a trail.  With courage and perseverance, she and my dad put God and family first when raising my siblings and me. They faced many of the same challenges families face today – balancing work and family, tight budgets, sick children, college tuitions, ailing parents, relocations due to work, traveling husbands and the demands of a secular society.  Mom kept the home peaceful and happy because she knew how to love; it came from God and He was a partner in my parents marriage.  She taught my brother, sister and me to do the same in our marriages and this is a trail we have followed with gratitude.

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Like St. Teresa, Mom has drawn many souls to God due to her courage and grace. St. Teresa’s famous quote is one that properly sums up Mom’s attitude about life before and after the cancer.

“Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee:
All thing pass;
God never changes.
Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.”

I was looking through some photos from my sister and came upon the picture below.  I’ll admit that it caused a few tears.  But when I stopped to truly look at Mom’s beautiful face, I saw her incredible courage, grace, beauty and love in those deep, brown eyes and was filled with gratitude.  This is a picture of a woman who was filled with love, who gave without seeking anything in return and who loved God with her whole heart and soul – looking at the photo, one would not know that this was her last breakfast before enduring a two-week silence in preparation for heaven. Indeed she gave her all to our family – right up until the moment when our good God called her home. That is courage, that is grace – that is my beloved mother. May we all find the strength to follow her example and be more like her.

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