Joans played an important role in my becoming a Catholic. The biography of Joan of Arc by Vita Sackville West opened my eyes in the 1970s. Next came Joan of Arcadia, the teen who talked to God in prime time from 2003 to 2005. But just as important was Joan of Beverly, a seventy-something mother of seven who was my sponsor in RCIA.
I entered RCIA in the fall of 2007 and found, along with about eight students, another eight or so “team members” volunteering to help us learn about the faith. Joan was one of these, and in a matter of weeks I gravitated toward her enthusiasm, and I think she gravitated toward mine. For many months, until sometime in early 2009, we sat on opposite ends of the same pew at daily mass, and our friendship grew. But then Joan was diagnosed with cancer, and she disappeared from the daily scene for surgery, chemo, radiation—the whole nine yards.
I’m not proud that I let her drop off my radar for a while, but about three months ago I decided enough was enough and gave her a call. Since then I have visited her usually one afternoon a week, for ninety minutes or so. We shoot the breeze, catch up on our respective families, and talk about our faith. We are roughly twenty years apart in age, but Joan is like a sister to me, a wise older sister.
Sunday evening, I drove Joan to a dinner concert by Boston-area singer Jaymie Stuart Wolfe entitled “Cloud of Witnesses.” It was something like the sixteenth annual concert by Wolfe given in the barn at Brooksby Farm in Peabody. About a hundred people were there for the home-cooked meal, followed by concert and mass. Included in the throng were Jaymie’s husband and their eight children, three of whom performed Irish step dancing to one of Wolfe’s songs. I was frankly spellbound, making the hazy iPhone photo above a perfect image of the evening.
Which is a little hard for me to fathom. As little as three years ago, before I began taking Catholicism seriously, I would have been very skeptical about a faith-filled event like this. Sunday evening I was swept away.
The concept of the concert was simple. For All Saints Day, Wolfe took as her text the Gospel for the day, the Beatitudes, and selected a saint or two for each of the eight verses. She talked about each saint, then sang a related song. Think about it for a second: Which saints would you say best represent (1) poverty of spirit, (2) mourning, (3) meekness and humbleness of heart, (4) hungering and thirsting after righteousness, (5) mercifulness, (6) purity of heart, (7) peacemaking, and (8) being persecuted for righteousness’s sake?
While you’re thinking up your own answers, take a look at my first post, from back in August, in which I wrote about how important the saints were in my own conversion.
Now that you’re back, here are my notes from Jaymie’s concert. They are fragmentary, but mostly self-explanatory and, at least for me, they contain several beautiful nuggets of wisdom.
Poor in spirit—Francis of Assisi. The only thing we can really spend is our lives. Poverty of spirit is to know you need God. [Chorus from song] “Better a fool in the house of the living God than a king over all the earth.”
Mourn—Augustine and especially Monica, who grieved over a son who was lost. Prayer matters. Prayer changes us. Prayer draws us and others to God. [Song title] “Become What You See.”
Meek and humble of heart—Francis de Sales (left). Died 1622. Archbishop of Geneva who never lived in Geneva! Hot tempered yet gentle. Controlling temper once he said, “Would you have me lose in ten minutes what it has taken me twenty years to gain?” The difference between a reaction and a response is three seconds. Embracing a low and little way. The little virtues open the door to all the rest. “Take the little way instead of striving for things that look glorious.”
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness—Teresa of Avila. The woman with manly virtues. Grew up with ten brothers. Public face of her convent for twenty years. After which she thought, I have never yet prayed. “Lord, I’m not leaving until you change me!” In your 20s you think you can change others. In your 30s you think you can change yourself. In your 40s you realize you can’t do either.
Merciful—Faustina. Received a vision of Jesus as mercy itself. “Jesus, I trust in You.” Trusting my holiness to him.
Purity of heart=single-heartedness, a heart set on God—Two examples: Maria Goretti, [one of the] youngest canonized, and Therese of Lisieux, who didn’t start off so wonderful—a brat with tantrums. Stopped looking in mirror, started looking for God in little things.
Peacemaker—St. Patrick, made peace with God after being sold into slavery. Escaped then used his freedom to return to the people who had enslaved him.
Persecuted for righteousness’s sake—Edith Stein (left), raised a Jew, then atheist philosopher. Read the biography of Teresa of Avila and said, “This is truth.” Nazis came to power, she became a Carmelite nun, wore a Jewish star on her habit. Was arrested, sent to Auschwitz. Her last words: “Let us go for our people.”
[Then a seemingly unrelated note at the end] Your spouse is your altar. Lay your life down in your marriage.
I returned home to find Katie waiting up for me, with a smile as always. Thanks again, Joan!