HOMILY THEME: “All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (Luke 4:22)

BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC


HOMILY: Luke 4:21-30

She would spend hours each day gazing at him, her lips moving quietly in adoring wonder, it absolutely clear what bond existed between them. Of him, all spoke highly, amazed at his wise words, but it is of her that I wish to speak. When I arrived at Bridgeport’s St. Vincent's Medical Center in 1990, Mae was already a fixture, an elderly eccentric woman who spent many hours each day in the hospital chapel, lips moving in prayer, rosary beads in hand. Always dressed for winter no matter the season, overcoat, scarf, mittens and pink knit cap were her uniform. Most days she brought her lunch to the chapel, moving to the back row to eat as prayer continued, rosary beads in one hand and sandwich in the other.

Mae and I shared a cordial nodding relationship for several months after first meeting until I realized that I had in her an under-utilized professional partner. The connection was made the day I felt swamped with requests for prayer. “Father, my husband’s so sick. Please pray for him.” And, “My brother is dying; will you pray for a happy death for him?” And another from a nursing student: “Father, please pray that I’ll pass my exams!”

As I stood in the sacristy doorway jotting down these requests, I spied the top of that pink hat in the back of the chapel. As a solution began to form in my mind, I asked the seekers of prayer, “Would you mind if I asked a friend of mine to pray for your intentions? She’s a prayerful woman who spends hours each day praying, and I know that she’s very close to God.” Of course, all readily agreed to my suggestion. And so Mae and I entered into a professional partnership that day. When I’d see her hobbling down the hospital hallway leading to the chapel, I’d collect the intentions people had asked prayers for. Giving my partner a chance to catch her breath and settle herself in Jesus” presence, I’d approach with the day’s assignment, “Mae, would you please remember a few special intentions in your prayers today?” And always, after I’d handed her the prayer list, she’d conclude, “And I’ll pray for you, too, Father.” And I know she did.

Relating one particular experience that Mae and I shared still leaves me chuckling. While she was surely close to God and exceedingly prayerful, her observance of the prescribed rituals was rather hit and miss. With attendance at daily noontime Mass in the hospital chapel the high point of her day, she’d move to front row center just before Mass was to begin. Now, those of us who knew her well paid no attention at all to the rubrics that were uniquely hers. Mae knelt, stood and sat at times during the Mass that made sense only to her while everyone else followed Catholic custom. Mae just bobbed up and down all through Mass.

Then came the day a dozen or so worshipers came into the chapel just as Mass was beginning and filled the entire second row of the chapel, just behind Mae, sole occupant of the front row. I could tell that this late-arriving group did not often attend Mass because all of them focused their eyes on Mae’s movements. When Mae stood, the whole row stood, and when Mae knelt, the whole row did likewise: all through Mass, up and down, up and down, sit, stand and kneel. While I did my best to appear recollected, the rest of the congregation behind the human yoyos was in hysterics. It was only Mae’s prayerful, dignified composure that kept me focused on what we were about.

Recently spotting a pink knit cap on an elderly woman entering church for Mass, Mae came to mind. Dead now almost a quarter century, I can better appreciate the contemplative life she led, her time and energy spent in prayer for others, her life focused, simple, uncluttered. In the gospel passage we hear today, we are told: “All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (Luke 4:22) It was in adoring wonder that my friend Mae spent her days. May she guide us this day along roads more straight and narrow so that, like her, we might find ourselves ever in God’s abiding presence.

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