Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
This is the one feast of the Church year that immediately reminds me of the image of my grandmother, “Chanita”. Her name was “Feliciana”, and she was my father’s mother. Her life’s story was punctuated by events anything but felicitous. We kids got to know her because she lived with us throughout the time I was in grade school; the year I left for the seminary, she moved to a nursing home, and two years after that, she died, on the very day that I was coming home for summer vacation from the seminary, at the very hour that my father and mother had left her bedside to come pick me up at the Union Station in Los Angeles.
As we grew old enough, we got to hear some of the stories of her years growing up in an hacienda around the village of San Andres, in Chihuahua, Mexico. She married Vicente Carrillo, and they went across the Rio Grande to El Paso TX, where two children were born: Julia, and Jose. Julia had cerebral palsy, her paralysis would require a mother’s constant care. Vicente wanted to move the family to California, where jobs were more plentiful, but Chanita wouldn’t think of leaving the environs of her relatives, especially with so much care needed by Julia. The couple separated, leaving Jose to look after himself at a young age, and Chanita, caring for her daughter, cared for her until the illness and the lack of adequate medical care brought an early, child’s death into the maternal heart of Chanita.
That tragic background was reflected in the ways that we came to know and love our grandmother. She always dressed in black; she prayed day and night (we often shared the same bedroom); she went to both parish Sunday Masses (it was a mission church; had there been more Masses, she would probably have worked in a few more, if possible); she gathered us around her bedroom altar, on our knees, to pray the Rosary each evening (with the undulating flame of her vigil candles distracting us from the pain in our knees); and we never tired of listening to her tell us of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego. In our naïve, childrens’ imagination, we sometimes wondered (aloud) why she hadn’t become a “nun”–which would have left us more bedspace in our crowded house.
As I grew older, entered the seminary, learned of the richness of meditation and of the rich font of inspiration found in the Scriptures, I began to associate people and events in the context of a scripture reading. So it was that one year, as the readings of the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple were being offered to us for our reflection, that I began to identify Anna and Simeon with the real life person of my grandmother, Chanita.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. Simeon, the just and elderly man, had been led by the Spirit of God to the Temple, where he found the consolation of his life-long desire to know that God’s savior had prevailed over time, over a life-time. Anna, who never left the temple, worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
Chanita, as faithful as Simeon and as prayerful as Anna, trudged every Sunday to the temple of Our Lady of Victory Chapel, in East Los Angeles, to meet with her consolation, the real presence of Christ in the Mass and Holy Communion. When, just a few years after she was no longer able to walk to the church, she surrendered her soul to the Father, it was the “nunc dimittis” shared with Simeon. She had indeed welcomed the Salvation promised by God many times over through a persevering faith in God’s eternal love for those whose lives have known suffering and pain.
As we listen to the Gospel narrative of these two elderly people who longed for the fulfillment of their hopes and of their faith, look around, notice the hopes and faith of the elderly folks who live nearby, down the street, around the block, in the parish, and at the grocery. The Spirit of God has led them through many of the aches and sorrows of the human heart, but they continue to live with the hope and faith that they are in God’s care. May we always welcome and treasure their witness to us and to our families.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.