I often imagine my great-great grandmother courageously sailing to the United States with my great-great grandfather, an eighteen-month-old daughter, and a swollen, pregnant belly. In 1907, they left their home in Turkish-ruled Lebanon and sought a life free from persecution as Christian minorities.
What was it like for her, stored away in the lower parts of the ocean liner surrounded by strangers? How often did her broken heart dwell on her baby son after he was born too early and dead during the passage? What was it like being a darker-skinned woman in America who did not speak English? How did she find peace as they struggled to feed their growing family?
Did she look to Christ and listen to Him as today’s Gospel, Matthew 17:5, reminds us? Did this granddaughter of a Maronite priest of the Lebanese Catholic Rite cling to her faith in Him through it all?
I believe she did.
When her family settled in Saint Louis, Missouri, she bore and raised all eight of her surviving children as Catholic. After farming for a decade in what are now the suburbs, they eventually lived in the small immigrant community in the city. Their poverty caused them to leave the Maronite Rite behind and go to the Roman Rite parish of Saint Vincent de Paul for the Sacraments and material assistance. Her children also went to school there.
My great-great grandmother’s middle daughter passed away during my last year of college. She was one of the sweetest women I ever knew, always having a kind word, always full of gratitude. And always full of faith. Her faith was all she had left in her memory by the time she passed away.
I think about these two strong women, daughters of one nation, living in another. Yet, our faith is for “all peoples, nations, and languages” (Daniel 7:14). Christ came to redeem us and bring us from all the nations of the world into one family.
He transfigures us into His sisters. No matter where we come from, we are all one in Him.