I would have to say that outside of my Mother and the Franciscan nuns that taught me in high school, my Grandparents had one of the most predominate impacts on my Catholic faith. I think in some way, they too sensed that I was "in search" of something that this world simply could not satisfy. I say this because in the spring of 2001, they gave me a priceless gift, one I've thought about every day since. This gift was a pilgrim to Italy (Rome, Assisi and Cascia--the place of St. Rita) and Medjugorje. I remember being simply elated when they approach me to ask if I was interested. I was exuberant! I went to Italy first without my Grandparents and they later met me in Medjugorje. It was a long trip from Italy to Bosina, into the hamlet known as Medjugorje. Our bus had broken down and we arrived in the wee dark hours of the morning. When I arrived to the house we were staying at, I could not stop with the others and eat, I had to see my Grandparents. I remember tears filled my eyes as I banged on their door, I was so excited to see them! I couldn't believe I was going to share this special time in this holy place with them. I knew I would never forget it and to this day, I recall this experience and instantly a deep sense of love and joy fill my heart. Again, my Grandparents demonstrated the "sweet fruit" of their faith, God-centered life and generosity.
As mentioned, the first part of this journey began in Italy. This was my first time in Europe and I essentially felt like a stranger with the rest of the pilgrims. However, that sense of being a stranger only lasted but a moment. Some of my Grandparents friends had gone to Italy as well and instantly took me under their wing. One older man in particular befriended me, his name was Larry. I instantly could tell he was set in his ways, however, he got a kick out of his own sense of humor, and I thought that was funny. He reminded me a lot of Walter Matthau in the movie "Grumpy Old Men." However, little did I know that ten years later, this dear man would still be such a close family friend. Larry became someone I would visit on a regular basis upon my return home. Our conversations about faith and life gave me a lot of comfort and still do, even though our visits now are a little fewer. Larry always encouraged me to pray. He often would send me prayer cards or share them with me during our visits. I know that God brought him into my life for a reason. He too is a "sweet fruit" that has shown me that we must place our trust in God, regularly participate in the sacraments and take life in stride.
Most recently, I have once again been blessed in befriending an older woman named Adele. This simply had to be fate. Upon a priest hearing my confession, he recommended I meet her. I gave the priest my phone number to give Adele and did not think too much of it. However, within a week's time, Adele called. It was amazing that over the phone I could sense a profound peace of soul within this woman, literally a "sweetest." She asked if I wanted to come to her home one Wednesday morning in June and I openly accepted her invitation. Well, it is now February and most Wednesdays of the month, I have a standing appointment with Adele. I cannot begin to tell you what a treasure this woman is. She is a Franciscan (which I thought was too funny, since I had contemplated become a Secular Franciscan myself) and she truly lives the message of St. Francis. Adele constantly challenges me to love, even when I can't. She challenges my normal responses and suggests I consider others' perspectives. She sees my goodness, when I can't see it. Her voice is gentle, her soul is sweet and when you are in her presence, all is well with the world and it is better because she is in it. I did not see it at first, but now I am starting to see, that Adele is challenging me to be who God made me to be, not what I think I should be. She is challenging me to be love. It is so simple, sometimes I struggle to get it. She is teaching me to see my talents and not be my toughest critic. She is so gentle, but at the same time lives this bold life and I love it!
Overall, I can see an evolution. The Lord has put these "sweet fruits" in my life to call me back home, to call me to love, to call me to transformation from the self I thought I should be to the self he made me to be. Unfortunately, in our American culture, we do not appreciate our elderly like others do. For example, we do not have the Chinese value of filial piety, where we hold our elderly in the highest regard and take care of them. No, we want to send them to a home or in some cases suggest the practice of euthanasia. What is a society if they do not value one of the sweetest parts of it? The elderly are invaluable. I will never be able to be the gift to my Grandparents, Larry or Adele that that they have been to me. They have contributed more to society and God's plan here on earth than I have or possibly ever can. I am simply humbled before them. They get life, they get that all you can do is surrender to God and joyful trust in him, even in the suffering.
Thank you God for the gift of the elderly! Thank you for unfolding part of your will for my life through these wise men and women. They are forever in my heart and I am utterly thankful that I have gotten a taste of their "sweet fruits!"
"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life." Proverbs 16:31