I was sitting at table at a fancy dinner party recently and the person next to me told me that Mary was always asking for me. I hadn’t heard from her in years, but I never forgot her…or more precisely her shoes.
I met Mary when her daughter was murdered. I went to her house so many years ago. Mary and I sat on her couch in her little living room. She called me because she had just been informed that her daughter had been murdered half a world away. What made matters worse was that the Middle Eastern country would not release the body of her beloved daughter. It was an awful situation made even worse. Everyone tried to gain the release of her daughter’s body but none could succeed. High ranking US officials, senators, congressmen, local officials, State Department officials, even some important media people. Nothing was successful. What stunned me at that dinner party was that the woman seated next to me knew the real story. I didn’t think anyone knew.
One of the great assets of the Catholic Church is that we are everywhere. There is nowhere the presence of Christ’s Church is not. The Catholic Church can go places governments cannot. We have listening posts and personnel in every village. This was the reality upon which Ronald Regan capitalized in joining forces with Pope Saint John Paul in the fall of communism. And so, phone calls were made from bishop to bishop when all other efforts had failed. Her body was released and returned to her mother. No one would ever read this in the news and the only reason I am speaking about it is because I was so startled that my dinner companion knew the real story of how Mary got her daughter’s body back.
After all these years Mary is now near the end of her own journey, and it was so good to hear about her. She will be with her beloved daughter perhaps soon. But here’s what I remember most about Mary: her shoes. It’s funny what we remember about people. Why her shoes you probably ask? After we buried her daughter, Mary would join me from time to time on parish outings. She wore the same old shoes. They were not attractive, actually they were very plain. She always wore the same old shoes. I remember her walking ahead of me and climbing the steps of the churches we would visit. I walked behind her in case she fell backwards. The steps were very difficult, and she mostly pulled herself up the stairs, but she never gave up—she kept climbing. It was as if she would find her daughter at the top of those steps. That’s the image I have of this very brave woman who, despite all her infirmities and great tragedy, kept climbing when most people would give up.
I asked my dinner companion to send Mary my thanks and my prayers when next she saw her. But I also asked her to tell her that she and her old shoes had always been a great inspiration to me—and she probably never knew it. I wanted to be certain that Mary knew that.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon