by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One of my mother’s best friends was a woman named Marcella.
My mother met Marcella because of baseball. Marcella’s husband Buck and my father played on the same semi-pro baseball team.
I remember as a young boy going with my mother and brother to Marcella’s home for dinner. Buck and Marcella had two daughters that were a few years older than my brother and me.
Almost all of our family friends during my childhood years were Catholic. Marcella was an exception.
She and Buck were members of the United Church of Christ. Her daughters belonged to Job’s Daughters, the female youth group for their church.
This always struck me as odd, because in the beginning of the Book of Job all of his children were killed when a wind storm collapsed the house in which they were partying.
However, I am confident that the group’s name came from the end of the Book of Job, where God restores to Job all that he had lost during his misfortunes, including seven new sons and three new daughters.
The text notes: “In all the land no other women were as beautiful as the daughters of Job.”
It seemed that we usually visited Marcella on Friday evening. Marcella, out of respect for our Catholic faith, always prepared a meatless meal. When I was ordained a priest, Marcella created a stole that had crosses that were made from my mother’s wedding dress.
After Buck died, Marcella continued to visit my mother. Sometimes, she would come and stay overnight at my mother’s apartment. They had their own version of senior pajama parties.
Marcella died a few years ago. It is one of the challenges of living into your 90s: Most of my mother’s contemporaries have already gone to the Lord.
A few years before her death, I thanked Marcella for her faithful friendship with my mother and our family. She shared with me that my mother’s friendship was a great gift to her. She admired my mother’s faith.
Marcella recalled that after my father’s tragic death in December of 1948, Marcella hesitated to contact my mother. She did not know what to say to console her. She was afraid to enter into the sadness that my mother was experiencing.
When she finally worked up the courage to reach out to my mother, she was amazed at my mother’s attitude.
My mother asked about her and Buck and her daughters. My mother was not overly focused on her own situation, but was very interested in what was going on in Marcella’s life.
My mother was grieving my father’s death, but also filled with the Christian hope of Our Lord’s victory over death and my dad’s share in his eternal life. Her faith allowed her not to be overly preoccupied with her own sorrow and challenges, but to be aware of and interested in the lives of others.
My mother’s strength in response to my father’s death profoundly affected Marcella’s view of Catholics. Though she never felt called to become Catholic herself, she was impressed that my mother’s Catholic faith helped her cope with adversity and embrace the challenge of being a single mother.
Marcella could see that my mother’s faith gave her the ability to find meaning and hope while coping with the grim realities of suffering and death.
God did not will or desire my father’s murder. However, through the wisdom of our Catholic faith, my mother believed that God could use this tragedy for good. Jesus draws forth good from evil, life from death.
It is our suffering and adversity that give credibility and power to the witness of our Christian faith. In a sense, the tragedy of my father’s death gave my mother an opportunity to be an even more powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus and the beauty of life in the church.
Marcella’s sharing how the witness of my mother’s faith affected her made a strong impression upon me.
When I encounter some difficulty or adversity in my life and ministry, I am reminded that I am being given the opportunity to demonstrate in a very real way the great gift of my friendship with Jesus and being part of his church.
Like most people, I attempt to avoid suffering most of the time. However, I am so grateful for my Catholic faith that allows me to find purpose and power in those things about my life that I did not choose and do not want.
Allowing Jesus and his Holy Spirit to give us a capacity for hope and joy in the midst of adversity is one of the most powerful tools for evangelization.
Suffering gives a unique opportunity to witness to the power of the Gospel and the blessing of being part of the Catholic family.