The elderly next door neighbor was in the hospital, dying, and my friend Janine had volunteered to babysit the great-grandson.
“I’ve never seen anything so terrible,” the boy’s mom, Kara, had confided, distraught, when she came to the house one evening. “Grandma is suffering so much. It’s like she just can’t die.”
The family was taking turns visiting, but it was agony. Their beloved mother and grandmother writhed in torment day after day.
Janine is a life-long Catholic, intensely pious. She wears a scapular, crucifix, and miraculous medal; she talks about novenas and holy hours the way others talk about Gamecock Football. Years ago my husband would chuckle about all the saint statues decorating her living room — but she was eminently patient with him, respectful of the vast and profound common ground between the serious Catholic and the ardent Evangelical.
So that’s Janine. You can count on her for a decade of the Rosary any time you ask. But she doesn’t write tracts, doesn’t read all the hot new Catholic books, doesn’t teach RCIA or Bible Study or do anything you might think of as “evangelization”.
And here was Kara at her door, not a close friend, just another neighbor. Kara of the Spiritual-not-Religious. Kara who dabbles in eastern mysticism. Kara who was so estranged from her family’s historic protestant faith, that she didn’t dare enter the church last winter, when she had to pick up her boy who’d been carted to Christmas pageant practice along with Janine’s kids, casualty of free babysitting. Kara had phoned from the parking lot and asked Janine to walk him outside, afraid her pagan presence would be a disruption.
But now it’s fall, and Grandma is dying. Or rather, not dying, quite painfully. Friday at 3 pm, Janine prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for Grandma. Saturday morning, Kara stopped by again. Grandma was still in the death throes.
Janine thought about it. She’s a practical, problem-solving mom. “Maybe you should try Holy Water.”
“Well you know, it provides spiritual help. Maybe there’s something holding Grandma back.” Janine dug through her cabinets and produced a nice clean jelly jar for Kara to take over to the church. “I’ll call Father ask him to unlock the church so you can go get some holy water.”
Kara allowed that maybe she could try it. She was desperate, after all. What could it hurt?
Janine called and explained the situation to her pastor, who scheduled a time for the church to be unlocked. On Kara she unleashed all her ancestral Italian Mother SuperPowers: “You have to promise me you’ll go in there and get it. You have to go into the church.” She instructed Kara on where to find the holy water, and what to do with it. “He’s opening the church just for you, so you can’t skip out on him.”
Kara promised. And she went.
Kara brought the Holy Water up to her grandmother that afternoon. Kara’s sister and a friend were there as well. Grandma was still in agony. Kara followed Janine’s instructions: She made the sign of the cross on her grandmother, blessed the room, and prayed for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and peace.
Within minutes, her grandmother’s suffering vanished. She died peacefully, a smile on her face.
Kara and her sister went home and told the rest of the family. At the funeral, Grandma’s protestant pastor used the remaining holy water, still in the jelly jar, to bless the remains.
So that’s Janine, and that’s how she evangelizes. Did Kara and her family all present themselves for RCIA the following Sunday? No, of course not. Are they one jelly jar of Holy Water closer to the Catholic Faith? Yes they are.
If you ask her, Janine will tell you her part was very small: To be willing to babysit for a family in need, and to be willing to speak up about what she knew, in the hopes it could be helpful.
When Janine phones me, and we’re going through our litany of everyday Mom trials, and she wonders why this or that trouble is plaguing her lately, I just tell her: “It’s because Satan hates you.”
Copyright © 2012, Jennifer Fitz