Sunday, April 23, 2023


Faith also has to be combined with patience if it’s going to endure testing. You see, it isn’t just being able to survive troubles; it’s being able to wait until God brings you through them and glorifying Him in the process. It’s knowing, in other words, that your troubles are not just happenstances but that God has allowed them for His own purposes. And then there is the work of faith and power. God wants to make your life an extension of His almightiness.
- Dr. Robert A. Cook

Monday, March 27, 2023

The Angelus

  The Angelus - A short story by Mary M. Isaacs


“In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, In the Lord I will rejoice,

Look to God, do not be afraid.

Lift up your voices the Lord is near,

Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”


     The woman looked at her husband pleadingly as he prepared to go out the door for the day’s work. “Couldn’t we just keep saying it only in the morning and at day’s end, as we have been?”

     “Alison, we’ve talked about this. It’s time. We can’t hide in fear any longer. You know we are to speak boldly.”

     “But they will hurt you, maybe take you away. Maybe I’ll never see you again. Maybe they will come for me.”

     Daniel came back from the door and put his canteen on the table. He took his wife into his arms. “You know what to do. Go to your cousin Joseph’s house after lunch. They will keep you safe until we see what happens. There’s plenty of room there for you—we have no children to protect. Yet.” And he smiled at her.

     She clung to him. “If they take you away, there never WILL be any children.”

     His smile broadened and he put his hand gently on her belly. “We have this one.”

     She pulled back and stared at him. “How could you know that? I’m not even sure myself!”

     “God told me,” he said simply, as he looked at her.

     “But,” she stammered, “isn’t that more reason for you to be careful, then? For you not to do this? How can I raise a child without you?”

     “How can we raise a child without God?” he countered sternly. His wife had no reply but leaned her forehead on his chest as she held him tightly. “You know I have to do this, Alison. I hope I will not be alone, but even if no one else speaks out, that won’t matter. I must.”

     “I love you so,” her words came out muffled as she pressed closer to him. “God watch over you and keep you safe--every hour, every minute.”

     “Alison,” he whispered. “Dear heart…” and he kissed the top of her head. “Get everything ready to take to Joseph’s. I want to know that you will be safe.”

     She pulled back and looked up at his face, searchingly. He leaned over and kissed her. “I will see you at dinner. Deo volente,” he added.

     The woman reached up to touch his cheek. “I will get everything ready for dinner before I go. I will make something special for you, Daniel!” and she tried to smile at him. “It will be a surprise,” then she turned away abruptly, in order not to see him leave. After she heard the door close behind him, however, she put her hands over her face and allowed the tears to fall.


     Daniel worked steadily that morning, his mind only half on what he was doing. It was largely unskilled labor but did require some concentration on his part. Nevertheless, in the back of his mind he was keeping track of the time left before everyone stopped for lunch.

     All the workers ate together in a large dining hall, watched by the ever-present guards. The midday meal was provided by the state and was filling, if uninspiring. The menu was designed merely to keep all the men healthy and fit, not to entertain them. The workers sat at long tables, which had been set with full plates. Everyone was expected to eat what was served to them; afterwards, they all returned to their duties.

     Today was no exception to the usual procedure. The men filed into the dining hall, sat at their assigned seats for that week, and began to eat. Daniel barely glanced at his food; he had something else on his mind.


     Alison finished her preparations for dinner, keeping one eye on the clock. She had managed to remain calm all morning as she cleaned the house, prepared for dinner, and packed a small bag to take to her cousin’s house. But now it was almost noon…. She stopped everything she was doing while watching the minute hand move forward slowly. Fear and apprehension flooded through her as the hour approached.

     Finally it was twelve o’clock. She stood still for a moment, trembling, and then closed her eyes. Folding her hands together tightly, she took a deep breath and began to speak, saying both verse and response because she was alone. As word followed word, suddenly all fears were gone. Her voice stopped shaking and a sense of peace filled her soul.

     “The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary/And she conceived of the Holy Ghost/Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” 


     Daniel had stood up from the table to begin his reciting. He continued through the loud murmuring of voices all around him.

     …blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”

     As Daniel’s steady voice gradually fell on their ears, the men at his table stopped eating and looked up at him. Recognition flashed in the eyes of a few.

     “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

     Across from him, one man put down his fork and stood up in respectful silence. Others at the table looked from him to the speaker, bewildered.

     “Behold the handmaiden of the of the Lord/Be it done unto me according to thy word.”

     Another man stood up quietly, with bowed head. The noise at nearby tables diminished as more men looked to see what was happening. Silence rippled away from the first table, moving through the room like a wave across water.

     “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” and a second voice joined Daniel’s, from two tables away. “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”

     As a growing hush filled the room, the guards looked around and at each other, uncertainty on their faces. The guard at Daniel’s table left the room quickly. Daniel noted that, even as he continued speaking. He quelled the fear that went through him and went on reciting the prayer.

     “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

     By this time, several voices had joined in, and additional men were standing quietly. “And the Word was made flesh. And dwelt among us.” 


     At almost the same moment, Alison whispered the response: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus…”


     “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

     Some of the guards remained frozen in their places, but a few began moving toward the several speakers.

     “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Let us pray…”

     Suddenly, the brazen sound of an alarm ripped through the room. All the guards stopped what they were doing and ran for the doors. Daniel continued the prayer. “Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts…”

     By this time, men all around the room were on their feet, and several voices continued the prayer through to its conclusion: “…that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” The room was rapidly emptied of guards as the alarm continued to blare out. None of the men at the tables paid any attention to it.

     When the prayer came to an end, Daniel raised his voice slightly: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” In his mind, he thought he could hear Alison’s voice, echoing the “Amen”.

     There was utter silence after the last word was spoken. Then, almost simultaneously, the men sat back down and resumed eating their meal and starting quiet conversations, as if nothing unusual had taken place. Daniel sat, too, while exchanging a look with the man across the table, who had been the first to stand with him.

     “Amen,” said the other man, with the shadow of a smile; then he looked back down to his plate and continued eating.

     Daniel felt a little dizzy, but also exalted—until he saw their table guard re-enter the room and walk determinedly toward him. All the men around him fell silent, still eating slowly as their eyes watched the guard come near. He stopped beside Daniel and looked at him with an expressionless face. There was a short silence.

     “I set off the alarm,” he said finally.

     Daniel looked at him in surprise. “Why?” was all he could say.

     The guard shrugged slightly. “You weren’t finished with your prayer, and they were going to stop you.” He paused. “I won’t be able to set it off every day, though.”

     “I know,” Daniel said.

     “So what are you going to do?”

     “Get arrested eventually, I imagine.”

     “Is it that important?” the guard asked, puzzled.

     Daniel answered, “Yes, it is. That important.”

     The guard continued to look at him speculatively. “Well, I’ll see what I can do.” He made a sketchy half-salute, then turned and started to walk away.

     Daniel called after him quietly, “God bless you.”

     The guard stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “Thank you,” he said, and then returned to his place, as the other guards started straggling back into the room, talking loudly amongst themselves.


      Daniel walked home at the end of the workday, not looking forward to going into a dark and empty house. A few of the men had thanked him privately during the afternoon, which heartened him, but actually having taken this step made him think about it differently. Was continuing to do this really worth endangering Alison and their child? What would they do without him? How could she cope alone if he was arrested and taken away? Doubts crept into his thoughts.

     He reached his house and opened the door but stopped abruptly when he saw Alison setting the table. She put down the plate she had been holding and ran to him, calling his name. Dropping his empty canteen on the floor, he received her into a strong embrace. They held each other in silence until Daniel released her slightly and said, “Alison…I’m glad you’re here. But why didn’t you go to your cousin’s house?”

     She looked up at him intently. “Something unusual happened at noon today, didn’t it, Daniel? What was it?”

     He smiled at her. “I’m not completely sure, but…I think God sent an angel.”

     She nodded in agreement. “I knew there must have been something because all my fears ended right then. Completely. That’s why I never went to Joseph’s house. I knew you’d be coming home today.” She tipped her head, her face asking the question. “So, what about tomorrow?”

     He looked at her closely and could see that she had spoken the truth: there was no trace of fear or worry in her expression. There was only a settled peace. Her trust challenged his doubts.

     “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I wasn’t the only one who prayed”--she whispered “amen” at that--“and I don’t know what God has in mind. But what do you say--shall I do it again tomorrow?”

     “Could you keep silent now, after today?” she asked.

     He paused for a moment. “No,” he said simply.

     Alison smiled and reached up to cradle his face, then pulled his head down to kiss him. “I love you, Daniel.”

“In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice,

Look to God, do not be afraid.

Lift up your voices, the Lord is near,

Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”


“In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful”, by the Taize Community.

Mary M. Isaacs, copyright 2020

From the collection  "Lux Umbra Dei"

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Do You Want to Go to Heaven?

Me: Do You Want to Go to Heaven?

Other guy: Well, sure!

Me: Okay. You know, in Heaven, the saints and angels worship God continually and will for all eternity!

Other guy: So?

Me: How often do you worship God now?

Other guy: Umm, you know! Once a week for about an hour.

Me: Okay

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Lux Umbra Dei

   She knew the way; she’d been doing this for years. Decades, maybe? She couldn’t remember when she first started being responsible for this particular task. A long time ago, that’s when.

   Today she had a canvas carry-bag with her. The church had been running low on votive candles, although there had been very few coins in the money box on the votive stand for quite a while now. People were burning the candles without donating? That never used to happen… But she didn’t bother the priest about it. She just paid the difference out of her own pocket when she reordered more candles.

   The most recent order had just arrived, so she was taking them to the church. At one time, she been able to pick them up easily at a local church supply store, but it had closed a few years back and there were no others nearby. She missed going there and seeing all the church items and religious statues and paintings. They also had very nice little greeting cards with Bible verses on them, which she bought—thankfully in bulk--to send to friends, most of whom lived far away now. For quite a long time, she had also been sending them to the invalids and shut-ins in her church. She smiled wryly at the thought that she might be joining those ranks soon. And who would send cards to her when she could no longer get about? She didn’t know—the congregation had steadily dwindled over the years. But as her age advanced, her energy and mobility retreated. Thank goodness she could still do these tasks for her beloved church. She just walked more slowly, due to her unsteady legs.

    As she turned a corner near to the church building, she saw a group of young teenage boys across the street, doing nothing. Why aren’t they in school? she wondered. She tried to schedule her trips to the church when the nearby school was in session; she preferred negotiating quiet streets, when her slowness wasn’t a problem. It was very busy and noisy after school let out; she avoided being there at that time of day. It wasn’t a holiday either, so she didn’t know why the boys weren’t in class. Seemed like a lot of them to have played hooky all at the same time—then her mind caught her up briefly, as so often happened: did people use that term anymore? “Hooky”? Language changed, but she wasn’t always aware of the changes…actually, she was seldom if ever aware of them. Probably no one said “hooky” any more…

   Anyway, was it an early dismissal day? No---if it was, there would be a lot more young people walking home, going into the shops, standing around and talking with each other. Today there was only this small group of teenage boys.

   All this went through her mind in a flash as she kept walking. She barely glanced in their direction. She had discovered that looking too long might cause a reaction. She hoped they would ignore her as she walked down the street toward the church. Maybe she could reach it, and disappear inside in time…

   No such luck. They started talking and pointing at her, and even laughing.

   “Hey, old lady, can’t you move any faster?”

   “What’s up, lady? Goin’ to visit your boyfriend?” This was followed by howls of laughter, as the speaker was slapped on the back for this gem of wittiness.

   “Get out of our neighborhood! You don’t belong here!”

   It was true that the neighborhood around the church had changed dramatically since she started attending the church, when she was much younger. She used to know almost all the people who lived there. Now she knew no one.

   The church then had been filled with people: families with children, speaking many languages and celebrating many traditions, but brought together in their love of God and their dedication to his church. Where had all those families gone? she wondered. Where were those children now? They were completely different from the young people standing across the street from her.

   She continued walking towards the church, hoping that they’d get bored with teasing her and leave her alone. But it got worse. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a couple of them start across the street towards her. She tried to walk a bit faster, but knew that if she went too fast, she could fall. Her doctor had told her, “No more falls, or you’ll have to use a walker!” She hated the thought. She might be getting old, but she wasn’t elderly—yet. No matter what her doctor said.

   If she pretended not to see them, maybe the boys would let her alone. She faced forward and kept on walking, but suddenly she felt a jerk which almost caused her to fall backwards. One of the boys had grabbed at her canvas carry-bag.

   “Hey, what’s in here, grandma? Something for me? Did you bring a present for me?” The whole group laughed at that, from both sides of the street.

   “Please,” she said, “I’m just going to the church. There’s nothing in there, just something for the church.”

   The boys laughed again, as most of the group drifted over to where she stood, trembling a little. The first speaker yanked the bag again and this time it slipped off her arm. She tried to grab it back but nearly lost her balance again. The boy who had taken the bag opened it and looked inside. He stopped and his face went blank, then he threw it back at her quickly. As she tried to catch it, to prevent the candles from hitting the ground and maybe breaking, she fell heavily, awkwardly, crying out when she landed. Her cries were drowned out by sneering laughter. She felt sharp pains in various places and looked at him in fear.

   “This is boring,” the first speaker said to the others, as he gave her an inscrutable look. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

   From the ground, she watched them saunter away, laughing. Despite the pain from hitting the sidewalk, she was immensely relieved that they were leaving her so soon. Thank you, God…


   Her doctor scolded her; she’d been seeing him for years, and he treated her a little like an elderly aunt.

   “Thank goodness you didn’t break anything, although I have no idea why not! But you are badly bruised and will be in a lot of pain for some time. Bed rest for a while until the bruises go away—no extended trips outside your home!” He was adamant about that and sent her home with some mild pain killers. A kind neighbor volunteered to do her grocery shopping for a while and also bring in her mail.

   While she was recuperating, her priest came to visit her. He was shocked to hear what had happened and suggested that someone else take over the candle and votive stand responsibilities. But at this, her natural stubbornness asserted itself. She’d been doing this for years and intended to continue until she couldn’t manage it any longer! He reluctantly gave in, but insisted that she confine her trips to Saturdays, when school was not in session. She was struck by the simple solution and readily agreed. He’d then asked her if she had recognized her assailant, but she shook her head. The boy was completely unfamiliar to her; she had never seen him before. The priest expressed disappointment; he said that his experience had been that, when a young person was caught in wrongdoing and made to suffer the consequences, there was a good chance that they might change their ways. He left on this note, giving her something to think about. She could only visualize the boy vaguely, but she knew she’d never forget the expression on his face after he’d tossed the bag back at her.


   A few weeks later she made her first trip back to the church. It was threatening rain that Saturday; she should have stayed home, but knew it was past time to check the votive stand. If they ran out of candles, people coming to pray would be disappointed. She felt well enough to go and had hoped the rain would hold off until she was finished and back home. Unfortunately, it started while she was on her way there; she just made it into the narthex before it began to come down heavily. I’ll be here a while, she thought. No need to hurry now!

   She made her usual prediction as she neared the stand: the upper right-hand corner candle insert would definitely need replacing. Yep, she was right—burned empty as always. Someone must really like that spot, she noted. Can’t blame ‘em—I always use the one in the opposite corner, don’t I? Guess I’m not the only obsessive one. She’d have to remember that example for the next time she and her doctor argued about her behavior.

   She finished refilling the candle holders and put the empty inserts into her bag, to throw away later. After unlocking and looking in the money box, she decided there wasn’t enough to remove; it was only a few dollars in coins. No need to take out that small of an amount. She’d wait another couple of Saturdays.

   It was still raining hard--she could actually hear the faint sound of raindrops hitting the church roof and very little light came through the stained glass windows. She decided to wait a while before going home; perhaps it would clear up, or at least subside into only a drizzle. Her umbrella could keep her fairly dry, but steady rain made it hard to see to walk safely. At times like this, she wondered if maybe she should get a walker…she made a face at the thought.

   She picked up her carry-bag and went to her usual pew, on the other side of the church from the votive stand. She kept a couple of small pillows there, to ease the occasional pains in her legs and back; they were helpful now, to cushion the fading bruised places, which were still a bit sore. She settled herself, with the bag on her lap, and said a few prayers. “When in Rome,” she thought, and then laughed at herself. Really, the things that flit through my mind…

   The quietness and dimness of the church and the light, regular sound of the raindrops soon lulled her to sleep.

   Something caused her to waken all at once. She didn’t move for a moment, trying to recall where she was, and then the uncertainty sharpened into focus. She was in church, it was still dark inside because of the rain clouds, and someone was walking towards the votive stand. She stayed still and watched, not wanting to disturb someone else’s prayer time. They wouldn’t be able to see her in the cloud-caused dim light—she could only make them out because of the little wall sconces near the stand.

   The person paused in front of the stand for a moment, and then started to do something. Instead of lighting one of the candles, however, they leaned over, fumbling with something below the stand. From the clinking sounds, she guessed that they were doing something with the money box--putting coins in? No, it sounded like the little door at the back of the money box being opened. But she and the priest had the only keys! This certainly wasn’t the priest—was someone picking the lock? Then she heard the familiar slithering sound of coins being poured out. Someone was taking the candle money! Someone was stealing from the church! She was angered and indignant but didn’t move. She’d heard too many horror stories about what happened to people who tried to stop robbers; she’d seen too many violent altercations on the city streets. But she was disappointed that it was too dark in the church to make out any details about the thief, so that she could report it to the priest and the police.

   There were more sounds: the back of the money box closing, the box being returned to its place. The thief would leave quickly now, she expected, but that did not happen. Instead, there was silence for a bit, and then she heard the sound of a match being struck. She watched as the upper right-hand corner candle flamed into life. The figure then bowed its head and stood still. Without thinking about what she was doing, she clutched the carry-bag to her chest, got to her feet, and moved quietly down the pew until she came to the center aisle. She started to hear different sounds, bits of softly spoken words. She crossed the aisle to get closer; the words became distinguishable.

   “…sorry, so sorry…not for me, for my mom…I’m sorry…” The figure bowed again and then turned away from the votive stand toward the front entrance. As she walked closer, the sound of her steps made the person turn in her direction and freeze in a half crouch, fists clenched.

   At that moment, the light came streaming in through the rose window. She thought of several things at once: the clouds breaking up, letting the light go through; the breathtaking beauty of so many colors falling across the stone floor, the pews, the votive stand; and a young man’s face. A very young man—actually a boy, with a very familiar-looking face. She suddenly realized that she was looking at the boy who had yanked away her carry-bag a few weeks ago. An intense fear washed over her as she noted his defensive stance, and then vanished as quickly as it had come. Why is that? she wondered. Why am I not afraid any more? And then she saw what had caught her eye, unconsciously—the glimmer of tears on his face, and an expression of guilt and shame.

   The light coming through the window widened as the clouds broke up more and more—widened further until the bright colors fell on her, too. The boy squinted, blinked, and then focused on where she was standing; he straightened up, and she saw instant recognition in his eyes. They both stood silently, staring at each other. We’re inside a rainbow, she thought obliquely. God’s rainbow. God’s promise. Why?

   She moved closer, half-expecting him to run away, but he didn’t. The clouds shifted again and the area of colored light shrunk, but still surrounded the two of them.

   There was a short silence. “You took the candle money,” she finally said, matter-of-factly. “You’ve been taking it for a while, haven’t you?”

   He looked at her in fear. “Yes,” he said, “but not for me! It’s for my mom, for her medicine. She’s sick, and the medicine costs a lot of money. More than we have…”

   “Is she going to get better?”

   The boy’s face crumpled and he looked down. “I don’t know. She’s been sick a long time.”

   There was more silence as she watched tears roll down the boy’s face. His fists clenched again, but she ignored it this time. Dear Lord, what should I do? she thought dispassionately—and then she knew. The colored lights coming through the window intensified briefly and then dimmed.

   She leaned forward and spoke quietly. “May I come and see your mother?” He looked up apprehensively. “No, not to tell on you. Just for a visit, to see how she’s doing?” She hesitated for a moment and then took some money out of her carry-bag and put it into his hand. “This is for you, for your mother’s medicine.”

   He stared at the money in his hand, and then said, “No! Take it back!” He dug the coins from the votive stand out of his pocket and tried to hand everything back to her. “I’ve taken that money lots of times---and I hurt you….” He collapsed onto his knees, sobbing.

   She carefully lowered herself to the floor, while holding on to the arm of a pew, and put her hand on his shoulder.

   “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he kept crying; his hands opened up and the money fell to the floor. She moved her own hand and gently touched his cheek. He looked at her. “How can you be nice to me? I steal from God and I hurt you!”

   “You are sorry. God forgives you—I forgive you.”

   He took a breath and spoke again. “How can you forgive me? I was mean—I laughed at you and I threw that bag at you. You fell over and cried out. I did that.”

   She picked up the money and handed it back to him, folding his hand tightly over it. “I’m all right. And you will be, too. Go home to your mother and take care of her. Come back here and pray any time you like. God sees your candle and hears your prayers. He heard you say that you’re sorry.”

   The boy reached out his other hand tentatively and put it on hers; all their hands were clasped together now. “I’m so sorry, so sorry,” he repeated in a whisper.

   For a while, neither of them moved. Around them, the colors from the windows shone even brighter.

Copyright 2020 by Mary M. Isaacs, from the book, "Lux Umbra Dei"