Although my wife and I are a relatively devout young Catholic couple, we generally like to associate ourselves with people from all walks of life. Whether they be religious, secular, or even anti-religious, we believe that we are called to live the Catholic faith and be an example to everyone. As part of this approach, we are not terribly concerned with engaging in secular events which once had a profoundly Christian influence. One such event – however innocuous – is our City’s annual Santa Claus parade. Because our children are young (Clarissa – 5 and Emma – 3), Lara and I like to take them to see the parade because it’s a lot of fun and we all enjoy it immensely. There is a tinge of sadness, of course, since the bishop in the red suit has been stripped of his mitre and staff, and instead holds a bottle of Coca Cola in one hand and a bag of trinkets in another. Nevertheless, although it has become sanitized from its Christian heritage and the public who attend it are, by and large, ambivalent – and even some rather hostile – to Saint Nicholas’ origins, it’s still a good time for the children, and that’s why we go. One day, perhaps, our culture will return Saint Nicholas to his rightful place in a Catholic culture. Until then, we must patiently endure the prostitution of his good name in secularism and consumerism.
Two Christmas’ ago, Clarissa, our older daughter, came down with a slight fever and we were unable to attend the Santa Claus parade. She was disappointed that she could not see Santa, but we promised her that next year we would be sure to go. As parents of small children will readily admit, the future is little consolation to children when they want something now, and this Christmas promise was really no different. Still, her disappointment quickly passed and was forgotten as Christmas approached.
As this past Christmas was approaching, my wife and I reminded ourselves that we could not miss the Santa Claus parade again, and we dutifully set aside the time to make good on last year’s loss. Sure enough, as early December approached we had forgotten about the parade until the day was upon us, and even then it was too late since we had only remembered after the parade was finished. Fortunately for us, we saw a clipping in the local paper reminding us of the Santa Claus parade just 20 minutes west of Ottawa in Kanata. My wife and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. The day of the parade came and the whole family set out early in order to find parking at the Shopping Mall. As any child knows by now, of course, Santa does not live and work at the North Pole. He works at the Malls on the weekends and weeknights during the Christmas season! Anyhow, we managed to find parking in the mall parking lot, and slowly started to make our way down to one of the nearby streets where Santa would be passing by.
As we shuffled along the side of the mall throughway, Lara and I happened to notice an elderly lady standing outside her car just a little further down the hill. Although it does not happen that often, sometimes I can just feel the Lord’s hand on a situation, and my “spidy sense” was telling me that this was one of those moments. As we approached her, I noticed that the woman looked very worried, and as we started to pass her by she asked us if we had a cellular phone. I replied that we did not, and asked her if something was wrong and whether we could help in any way. She said that she really needed a cellular phone to call home so someone could bring her second set of car keys. Apparently, she had locked her keys in the car. I was rather confused at her anxiety since she could have easily walked into the mall and called for assistance from a pay phone. So I crossed the road and as I approached her, she went on to explain that her two year old grandson was locked inside the car. Well, that would explain why she could not leave the car unattended. Sure enough, as I looked in, there was the little guy snuggly strapped into his car seat staring attentively at me. I first offered to look after the car while she went into the mall or offered to go into the mall myself and make the call for her. She hesitated somewhat but now wondered openly whether anyone was even at home. She had a spare house key available to her and could get inside if she could just get home. Sensing the hint, I offered to give her a lift. She nodded agreeably, motioning to me that she only lived about four blocks away. Lara and the children happily agreed to watch over the little boy in the car while we were away.
As we settled in for the short drive, we started to make small chat about the weather and the Christmas season. After the pleasantries were over, Daphne happened to notice the rosary hanging from the rear view mirror and how pretty it was. As I glanced at the rosary from the corner of my eye, I wondered whether she had any religious background. As my thoughts were reflecting on how I should further the conversation on to the Christian faith, she thanked me for my generosity and that the “Lord would surely bless me”. Here was my cue. As I formulated a smooth and seamless introduction in my mind, Daphne interrupted. “I am a believer as well”. “Is that so”, I said. My mind focused. What next? How should I move? The direct approach or the backdoor plan? What was she? Where was she coming from – Fundamentalist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic? If she was not Catholic, I needed more information in order to concentrate my approach in engaging her.
Almost providentially, she then offered it. “I’m Anglican”, she volunteered. And then she went on to relate to me some of the events in her life. I listened intently to her story. “I never knew my father, and my mother died when I was very young. I was very lonely and I missed my mother terribly so I asked the Blessed Mother to by my mother.” As she said these words, she pulled out a picture of the Blessed Mother which she always kept with her. In this moment, I knew that this little encounter was anything but coincidental, and I wondered whether our little rendez-vous was more for my benefit than it was for hers. As I sat there listening to her story, I reflected on my vocation as a Catholic Apologist and those I confront with the Catholic faith. Here I was ready to do the same with this elderly grandmother, when she unknowingly reminded me that she too was a spiritual daughter of the Blessed Mother, and that my approach to her should be one of a brother to a sister and not as a “Catholic” to a “Protestant”. As my eyes had fallen on the picture of the Blessed Mother, it became very apparent to me that although our separated brethren do not have the fullness of truth, some of them have indeed recognized a wonderful truth of the Christian faith – the identity of their Spiritual Mother. Of course, I knew this in an abstract way. I knew that the Orthodox and other Eastern Christians honoured Our Lady. I even knew that some “High Church” Anglicans did as well. But knowing something in your head is quite different than actually experiencing an encounter with a Protestant who had a “personal relationship with the Mother of Jesus”. It was a refreshing and wonderful experience, to say the least.
As I listened to her humbly recount how she loved the Blessed Mother and how Mother Mary had helped her throughout her life, I experienced a profound love and respect for this woman and her Anglican faith. To my surprise, I found myself closer to her in those few minutes than I have been to some of my childhood friends. And I asked myself: is this really a surprise? When two persons share the same mother, how can that not bring them closer together? And because Daphne recognized the Blessed Mother for who she really was, she was able to recognize our Brother and Lord more fully and authentically than if she had no spiritual mother at all. When therefore we would speak of “the Lord” in our conversation, it had a profoundly different meaning for both of us. We would know, intimately, “which” Jesus we were talking about: The Son of Mary, His Mother and Ours. My experience with this Anglican grandmother has only confirmed my belief that Christian unity comes through Mary. When she is loved and honoured the way she should be by all Christians, there will be considerably less in-fighting about what the “Gospel” is, and we can then focus on energies on evangelizing the world for Christ. Christian disunity is a sacrilege, and Our Mother is crying. Who will wipe away her tears?
The Catholic Legate
February 12, 2003
This article originally appeared in the Summer ’02 issue of Bread of Life magazine.