Tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. In my very first blog post I spoke about this feast because it is so near and dear to my heart. The reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 verses 22-40 or if you hear the short version verses 22 – 32. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for to be offered to the Lord as the first-born male child. My favorite character, and my special patroness is Anna, whom I have proclaimed to be the patroness of church ladies. Unfortunately, if you have the shortened version read at Mass, Anna gets left out because she’s so easily overlooked. If you hear her name even mentioned in the homily it’s probably just because she’s there. But she has so much to say.
And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I adopted Anna as my patroness several years ago. Even though I’ve been working as a musician in the Church since I left childhood, I always thought of myself as a musician who happens to do church gigs rather than a church lady. Then one day several years ago I took my youngest to McDonalds to give her something to do while waiting for her sister’s softball game to start. A man walked in and began looking over the crowd of people who were there chowing down on their cheeseburgers and fries. This man looked like he was, as my mother would say, “down on his luck.” He was dressed in rags and was unshaven and rumpled in appearance. I noticed him come in but then he cast his eyes on me he began to saunter right over to the table where I was seated with my six year old. I worried about what he might say. What would I say? I didn’t have much money on me if he was looking for a bite, although I could probably scrape something up from the bottom of my purse.
“Are you a church lady?” he asked. I must have looked puzzled and didn’t respond at first, so he repeated, “Are you a church lady?” My mind raced. I wanted to say, “No, I’m a rock diva who is currently doing a gig at a Catholic church,” but my mouth said “Well, yes. Yes, I am.” “Could you tell me where I could find a Father?” I gave him directions to the rectory and he thanked me and left. Church lady? Me? Do I really look like a Church Lady?
I’ve know many incredible women who fit the moniker “Church Lady.” Most often they were widowed and, like Anna, spent day and night in the church cleaning the thuribles, pressing the vestments, setting up for Mass and putting the sacred vessels away neatly and carefully. When they weren’t doing their Church Lady duties they could usually be found sitting quietly in the back of the church with their eyes closed fingering crystal rosaries. I believe that it’s the Church Ladies who really keep the church going. It’s the Church Ladies who really do remember to pray for all the people who have asked for prayers. They pray for the parish and the priests and the little babies who will be baptized. They pray for the newly married couples and the newly widowed. These women are the Church with pantsuits and smiles. Sometimes theirs is the first face people see when they walk in. Since they know everyone in the parish they’re quick to recognize and greet strangers. They enthusiastically tell them the history of the the parish and direct them to the restrooms. They’re the understanding heart that reaches out to the sorrowing and lost ones who have stumbled into the church to find answers to their pain.
So tomorrow go to church and greet your church lady because she’s the embodiment of Anna, the first evangelist. She’s the one who’s probably helping to pass out blessed candles.