I looked up and hugged her, pressing my face into her apron that smelled like apple pies; quickly I ran off to show my brother the treasure that Nonna found for me
The house was old and belonged to my great grandparents. It was a small solidly built house where they raised many children. It’s rickety parts and musty smells often betrayed the facade of the freshly painted wood siding. It was a home with a history of family memories, stories and heirlooms. When guests came to call, the graying splintered wooden back door would release wafts of heavenly aromas from freshly baked apple pies cooling on the kitchen table. It’s a home that makes me reflect fondly on my grandmother. It’s funny how recalling one simple memory can lead to another memory and then another until a whole story floods my mind. Instantly, I’m taken back to another place and time that was part of the foundation of my life.
I grew up in a historical area of Kentucky, in a simpler place and time. It was a time when the mundane routines of the day were treasured as if they were family traditions. Sunday was a day of church, rest and family. We owned functional things and wore simple clothing which were either fixed or mended when they were worn out. Family and friends were relied on when we couldn’t fend for ourselves, but charity was not accepted unless it could be repaid at the first possible opportunity. Caring for another’s children was not charity, it was a necessity of life and the closest relatives were asked before friends or neighbors.
Mom and Dad regarded their parental responsibilities as their primary duties. They sacrificed to provide for us and rarely had time for themselves. However, every so often, they planned a special evening out and they looked forward to time together. My grandmother, whom we called Nonna, now lived in that old house, made those heavenly pies and cheerfully cared for my siblings and me while my parents were out together.
Mom’s heels clicked along the cobblestone walkway that led to Nonna’s backdoor, Daddy smelled of a freshly starched shirt and the break in our family routine filled the air with a sense of excitement on the evening when Mom and Dad went out together. Just as the old gray wooden door opened and my grandmother greeted us in her faded worn apron, I felt I’d stepped back into another time. A brief catch up conversation with Nonna was followed by a strict warning to behave ourselves and a kiss that left a waft of her cologne on our clothes and lipstick on our cheeks. When the door closed behind them, we were left to play in the adjoining room with a bag of toys we brought from home. While Nonna tidied up the kitchen and tended to an elderly sister who lived with her, we contently colored in the new coloring books bought for this evening.
It wasn’t long before the sense of excitement wore off and the toys no longer held much interest. There wasn’t a television to entertain us and the antiquated parlor radio played only old static country music. The aged furnishings, fixtures, sounds and smells of the house occupied my attention for a little bit. Then, as if on cue, I heard Nonna’s house slippers shuffling along the creaking wooden floors. She stopped in the doorway to see if we were okay or needed anything. The growing idleness of the evening made me call out, “Nonna, find me something”.
“What do you mean? She asked.
“Mom said when she was a little girl, she would ask your sister to find her “something” when she was bored. Then your sister would find her a treasure”, I replied matter of factly. Nonna looked away to ponder my words. Without much ado she turned back and gestured, “follow me”.
I scurried along behind her into a dark, cold, musty bedroom that contained some old furniture, including a beautiful, antique, wooden wardrobe.
She flipped on a light and glass knob handles on its doors glistened. I’d never been in this part of her house, nor had I ever been with Nonna all by myself. I had no idea what to expect. I tried to contain my excitement, wondering what treasures could be waiting behind those doors, which seemed to beckon us to open them. This unplanned moment, filled with firsts, was almost too much for a seven year old little girl to absorb, and I didn’t want to ruin this special memory with my grandmother.
Nonna reached for a glass knob, the door creaked when opened and revealed a stack of small wooden drawers. She reached into a drawer, pulled out a gently used brown leather coin purse, handed it to me and told me to open it. My little hands, nervous with anticipation, shook as I snapped it open. Tucked down into the corner of the leather was a small white pearl bead rosary with a silver crucifix. I just looked at it. Then she asked if it was a good treasure. I’d seen my Mom’s rosary, but didn’t have my own or know how to use it. However, for some reason, I thought it was the best treasure ever! I looked up, hugged her legs, pressed my face against the apron that smelled like Nonna and apple pies, then happily thanked her before I ran off to show my brother the treasure Nonna found for me.
The following year I was enrolled in a Catholic elementary school where I learned more about Jesus and His Mother Mary. I received my First Holy Communion and learned to pray the Rosary. The seeds of love for Jesus and Mary took root as I continued to pray the Rosary. In time that little white pearl rosary became too small for my hands and I acquired a simple wooden rosary. I always carry the wooden one in my pocket and it too has become a treasure to me. Through the years, spending time in prayer developed a love for the Blessed Mother and her rosary. These days, before I begin my rosary prayers, I quietly ask the Blessed Mother to “find me something”. Every story exemplifies a virtue to be gained. So, I often ask her to explain the details and stories contained in the daily mysteries in order to develop those virtues in my life. She never fails to open the doors to her Son, Jesus, so that I can grow closer to Him. After meditating on what she graciously reveals, I’ve discovered that’s where the “treasures” are found.
Fast forward. Today, I’m about the age of Nonna when she gave me that little white pearl rosary. When I recall the day she “found me something”, I wonder, as she paused to ponder my request, did she know the ramifications of the treasure she gave me or if she knew she was opening more than an old wardrobe door for me? In that leather coin purse, she opened a whole world of spiritual treasures. I wonder if she’d already discovered the treasure of the rosary for herself and wanted to pass it on to me. I wonder if she knew her words were prophetic when she told me to open the case myself and discover the treasure within. Nonna has long passed on to be with Jesus. I still have that brown leather coin purse with the little pearl rosary inside. From time to time I take it out and think of her. I can still hear her ask me, “Is this a good treasure?” I still happily answer her, “Yes Nonna, it is the best treasure ever!”
Teresa Ann Weider serves the Church remarkably through her active involvement in various ministries over the years. She lives with her family in Folsom, California, USA.
A few months ago, during a conversation about a “difficult” colleague, my immediate superior remarked: “If I am not able to be a source of solace to such people in my team, then all my spirituality is in vain.” It was a wake-up-call; I had often been in the habit of judging this colleague, so this left me in shame. I realized how badly I had failed to be a true witness to my faith, at my workplace. All of us are surrounded by difficult people, maybe in the form of a nagging spouse, an envious neighbor, an irritating colleague, or a domineering boss. In fact, Jesus dealt with difficult people on a daily basis, giving us the perfect example of compassion. This Lent, let’s be thankful to God for all these difficult people in our lives. Instead of judging and avoiding them, let’s try to be like Jesus. Let’s do to them what Jesus would have done for them if He was in our place. And let’s not forget that it’s not the good people but the difficult people who purify us.
There is a regrettable interpretation of the Cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath. But what ultimately refutes this twisted theology is the well-known passage from John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have eternal life.”(3:16) John reveals that it is not out of anger or vengeance or in a desire for retribution that the Father sends the Son, but precisely out of love. God the Father is not some pathetic divinity whose bruised personal honor needs to be restored; rather, God is a parent who burns with compassion for His children who have wandered into danger. Does the Father hate sinners? No, but he hates sin. Does God harbor indignation at the unjust? No, but God despises injustice. Thus, God sends his Son, not gleefully to see him suffer, but compassionately to set things right. Saint Anselm, the great medieval theologian who is often unfairly blamed for the cruel theology of satisfaction, was eminently clear on this score. We sinners are like diamonds that have fallen into the muck. Made in the image of God, we have soiled ourselves through violence and hatred. God, claimed Anselm, could have simply pronounced a word of forgiveness from heaven, but this would not have solved the problem. It would not have restored the diamonds to their original brilliance. Instead, in his passion to reestablish the beauty of creation, God came down into the muck of sin and death, brought the diamonds up, and then polished them off. In so doing, of course, God had to get dirty. This sinking into the dirt—this divine solidarity with the lost—is the “sacrifice” which the Son makes to the infinite pleasure of the Father. It is the sacrifice expressive, not of anger or vengeance, but of compassion. Jesus said that any disciple of His must be willing to take up his cross and follow the Master. If God is self-forgetting love even to the point of death, then we must be such love. If God is willing to break open his own heart, then we must be willing to break open our hearts for others. The cross, in short, must become the very structure of the Christian life.
Q: My Protestant friends say that Catholics believe we need to earn our salvation. They say that salvation is by faith alone and that we can’t add to anything that Jesus already did for us on the Cross. But don’t we have to do good works to make it to Heaven? A: This is a pretty big misunderstanding for both Protestants and Catholics. It may seem to be theological minutiae, but it actually has a huge consequence in our spiritual life. The truth is this: We are saved by living faith—our belief in Jesus Christ that is lived out in our words and actions. We must be clear—we do not need to earn our salvation, as if salvation was a prize if we reach a certain level of good deeds. Consider this: who was the first one to be saved? According to Jesus, it was the Good Thief. While he was being rightly crucified for his evil deeds, he cried out to Jesus for mercy, and the Lord promised him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) So, salvation consists in that radical faith, trust, and surrender to what Jesus did on the Cross to purchase mercy. Why is this important? Because many Catholics think that all we have to do to be saved is ‘be a good person’—even if the person doesn’t actually have a living relationship with the Lord. I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me something like: “Oh, my uncle never went to Mass or prayed, but he was a nice man who did many good things in his life, so I know he’s in Heaven.” While we certainly hope that the uncle is saved by God’s mercy, it isn’t our kindness or good works that save us, but the saving death of Jesus on the Cross. What would happen if a criminal was put on trial for a crime, but he said to the judge, “Your Honor, I did commit the crime, but look at all the other good things I did in my life!” Would the judge let him off? No—he would still have to pay for the crime he committed. Likewise, our sins had a cost—and Jesus Christ had to pay for them. This payment of the debt of sin is applied to our souls through faith. But, faith is not just an intellectual exercise. It must be lived out. As Saint James writes: “Faith without works is dead” (2:24). It’s not enough just to say: “Well, I believe in Jesus, so I can now sin as much as I want.” On the contrary, precisely because we have been forgiven and become heirs to the Kingdom, we must then act like Kingdom-heirs, like sons and daughters of the King. This is very different than trying to earn our salvation. We don’t do good works because we hope to be forgiven—we do good works because we are already forgiven. Our good deeds are a sign that His forgiveness is alive and active in our lives. After all, Jesus tells us: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) If a husband loves his wife, he will seek concrete ways to bless her—giving her flowers, doing the dishes, writing her a love note. He would never say: “Well, we’re married, and she knows I love her, so I can now do whatever I want.” Likewise, a soul that has known the merciful love of Jesus will naturally want to please Him. So, to answer your question, Catholics and Protestants are actually much closer on this issue than they know! We both believe that we are saved by faith—by a living faith, which is expressed in a life of good works as a sign of thanksgiving for the lavish, free gift of salvation that Christ won for us on the Cross.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Do you remember hearing these words as a child? They seemed simple enough—just go to your room, close the door, and pray. I remember hearing them and being confused. Simple words, yes, but it just didn’t make sense that we could only say prayers, in our room, by ourselves. But my child-like faith told me to believe these words. As I grew, so did my faith and understanding of this Scripture. I came to realize these beautiful, profound words meant I could go into my room, turn my heart to the Lord, anytime, anywhere. My prayer life blossomed. How wonderful to spend quiet time with our Father and receive His love. Every time I hear these words from Matthew’s Gospel, I appreciate the Lenten season even more. It’s a reminder of God’s love and how much He desires our friendship. Love heals. For me, that’s the reward when I go into my room and pray.
Want to be in the loop?
Get the latest updates from Tidings!