The Still Small Voice
This past Sunday – the Forth Sunday of Advent – the Holy Spirit impressed deeply on my heart the wonderfully wise words spoken in the homily during the Mass. The priest exhorted us to quiet our souls within and our lives without in order to listen at all times to the “still small Voice” of the Lord as He desires to speak intimately to His children. During Advent the Church calls us into deep contemplation of the coming of Our Lord Jesus at Christmas as Emmanuel – “God with us” – the long-awaited Savior of Humanity – who appeared in the flesh in Bethlehem to save us from our sins and to keep watch with lively expectation for Christ’s promised Second Advent – when He will come in all His glory as King and Judge. So often we are distracted by the all the buzz in and around us, and especially at the Christmas Season, that we miss hearing our Savior’s sweet utterance!
1 Kings 19:11-12
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
In his sermon, the priest shared his own experience of a time recently when Hurricane Irene was battering the East Coast of America and he was outside attending to damaged tree branches as the storm was passing by. In the midst of the wind and rain he heard the still small Voice of the Lord speak to him to go to the bedside of a sick woman. Because his soul was in a continual state of quiet, even in the midst of the storm swirling around him, he could hear Jesus speaking to his heart. With childlike simplicity he obeyed and rushed to the home of the seriously ill woman who shortly after his arrival passed from this world into the next. In trust he administered the Last Rites and prayed to Jesus for her soul. I imagined the inexpressible groaning of the Holy Spirit deep in the priest’s heart as he lifted an unspoken prayer for the passage of this “little child of God” to the Celestial Home of the Father and the Son:
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight!
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
While listening intently to the holy priest’s account the Holy Spirit recalled to my mind a sublime experience when during my night prayer as I quieted my soul I heard the Lord’s still small Voice beckoning me to serve Him by ministering to one of His precious children whom He was also calling to Himself.
When I think of You on my bed, through the night watches,
I recall that You are my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I shout for joy,
My soul clings fast to You,
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63: 6-9)
In the fall of 2001 my beloved grandmother, whom we called Nana, then 96 years old, fell ill and entered the hospital. On Christmas Eve, my father received a call from her doctor urging him to come quickly to the hospital as Nana had deteriorated and become “unresponsive.” Dad shared with our family that he was anxious about seeing her in such a condition and feared that he may not have another opportunity to speak with her and tell her how much he loved her. Dad prayed for Nana and for himself that the merciful Lord would strengthen him to face this painful experience. When he arrived and walked into Nana’s hospital room he was amazed! Nana awoke and was fully conscious, looking at him and recognizing her son. Jesus has answered the cry of my father’s heart and had blessed him to look into his mother’s open eyes and receive her loving gaze back upon him. He spoke what would become his final words of love to her while he was still certain that she could hear and understand him. She could not speak back to him as she was on breathing support but the love in her eyes for her precious son spoke all that was necessary to console his agonized heart.
On the night of Wednesday, December 26, the day after Christmas while I was reposed on my bed…
Lord my heart is not proud, my eyes are not haughty,
I do not busy myself with important matters,
With things too sublime for me.
Rather I have stilled and quieted my soul,
Hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
So is my soul within me… (Psalm 131)
…I heard the Lord speak to me telling me to go straight away in the morning to Nana. My dear Jesus made me sense that this would be the last time I would see my grandmother and speak to her while she was still on this earth. That night the caring and wise Master instructed me as to His Word that He desired for me to share with her. I telephoned my father and told him that I must go to see Nana first thing in the morning as the Lord was compelling me to do so. It was urgent! I must go to be at Nana’s side the next morning to share with her the Word of God that our Lord revealed to me for her. Dad told me that he was very, very tired and he had just been with Nana on Christmas Eve. He also explained that he already had plans to join his only brother, who was flying east from the West Coast to visit their mother together in the hospital on Friday. Could I not join them on Friday, he asked me, and thus he would have a day of needed rest on Thursday from the long drive from his town to the hospital. I answered him passionately, “No, I must go. I cannot delay even one day! If you are not able to meet me there, I must go alone.”My father graciously agreed to make the nearly two hour drive again the next morning and meet me at the hospital so that we would be together to see Nana. In reflecting back, I believe our Lord must have desired that my father witness the events which would take place at the hospital that day.
On Thursday morning I began a two hour drive from my own town to the hospital where my grandmother lay. While driving I sang praises to the Lord as glorious Christmas music rang out in my car. I prayed to Jesus imploring His help to me to perceive His will concerning Nana as I felt in my deepest heart that this was a solemn mission I had been called to do. As I was driving through a town called “Moselem Springs” I heard Jesus say to me: “Baptize her.” I was surprised and immediately I asked Him, “How do I do that?” I did not receive an answer from Him then. My mind began to turn over many thoughts as I pondered His mysterious command. I wondered how I could do it, and when I could do such a thing in a busy hospital, and what water should I use? Many other such questions arose in my mind and perplexed me. I also considered that I might not be bold enough to obey His command. Yet, Jesus had spoken this word to me, of this I was sure. My heart’s desire was to obey my Savior’s instructions without questioning, even though my mind was filled with wonderings about it.
I assumed that my grandmother had been properly baptized as an infant in a Protestant church. She had been a member most of her adult life of the Church of Christ in the town where she lived after her marriage. My father mentioned once she had given generously to the church. When I had gone to grandmother’s house as a child and teen-ager she had often taken me to church on Sundays. I even recall some hymns she told me she liked: Silent Night and Rock of Ages. But surely there was a reason the Lord wanted me to “baptize her” at that time*.
Nana had grown old and had become housebound. She had not been able to attend church for years. It appeared that her church had forgotten about her. She did not receive their visits or calls during her old age or illness. And as she was brought up in the Protestant tradition, there was no Sacrament of Holy Communion to bring to her. They did not come to administer healing prayers or Last Rites while she lay many weeks in the hospital.
About eight months before Nana fell ill, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit I arranged for the good pastor of the Pentecostal church which I had been attending (as I was not yet a Catholic Christian), to come with me to pray for Nana and encourage her in faith and trust of Jesus.
Pastor Ed was gracious to drive the long distance to my grandmother’s house to minister to her spiritual needs in the absence of her own church. On the way he surprised me as he stopped at a Catholic store and purchased a Catholic Communion “kit”. This was a box which contained some communion wafers (hosts) prepared according to the canon law requirements of the Catholic Church to be used by priests in cases of emergencies when they may need to administer Last Rites (Viaticum : “Bread for the journey”) to a dying person. As the Lord’s ordained priests they have Christ’s Authority to consecrate the hosts and thereby bring the Risen Lord Jesus in the holy sacrament to the dying person —the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist – the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ – to enable their souls to enter into eternal life in Holy Communion with Our Lord.
Pastor Ed capably and lovingly ministered to my grandmother according to his Christian tradition, blessing her, praying for her and exhorting her in her faith and we shared the un-consecrated communion wafers as spiritual communion with Our Lord.
Jesus was going before us preparing Nana to bring her to Himself.
When I arrived at the hospital my father was already there and Nana’s elder-care aide, Lizette, was also present in the room. Nana was lying in the bed with closed eyes and she was unresponsive. The doctors told us that she had slipped into this unresponsive condition after Dad’s visit on Christmas Eve and had remained in that state ever since.
I approached my grandmother’s bedside and clasped her right hand and began to speak my words of love and affection into her right ear. The Holy Spirit then moved me to begin to speak for Him from His holy Word. Still holding her right hand, I opened my Bible to the Gospel of John and guided by the Spirit I began to read verses of scripture to her as He revealed them to me. As I turned a page I heard Him say: “Ask her.”
Looking down I saw this verse of holy Scripture:
Jesus, told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
In awe I began to read the holy words out loud to Nana. And in obedience to the Lord I asked her on His behalf, “Do you believe this, Nana?”
To my amazement she made a responsive sound through her breathing tube, and her still hand which I was holding, having been limp the entire time I was speaking to her until up until that very moment suddenly moved and I felt my hand being gently pressed by hers. Nana was hearing Our Lord and with this weak but undeniable squeeze of her hand she was answering Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe You are the resurrection and the Life. Yes, Jesus, my Savior, I know who You are. Yes, Jesus, my Hope of Eternal Life, I love you. My Jesus I trust in You!”
Just then, the Lord made me understand that He wanted me at that moment to fulfill His command to “baptize her.” With a sudden burst of joy, and not a second of hesitation, I looked up and saw in the room on the ledge by the window a white plastic cup which was filled with water and ice. I quickly went over to pick it up and poured the icy cold water out of it and filled it again with lukewarm water from the bathroom tap and returned to Nana’s side. I held her right hand again and speaking into her right ear I asked her, “Nana, do you want to be baptized?” Once again I felt a gentle squeeze of her hand against mine and understood that this she was responding “yes”. Immediately I poured the water over her head in a small gentle trickle as the Holy Spirit gave me these words to speak: “Nana, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of your sins and for eternal life”.
With a heart full of gratitude and love for My God at what He had just accomplished and with immense joy and deep peace in my spirit I left my grandmother sensing that I would not see her again until we would meet one day in Heaven.
The next day, Friday, December 28, 2001, I went with my family to New York City to see the Radio City Christmas Show which began at 3 pm. During the final fifteen minutes of the two hour performance there was a live Nativity Scene. Above the living scene of the Manger of Bethlehem was a large screen with the words of the famous Christian poem “One Solitary Life” which scrolled down electronically for everyone to read and ponder.
While sitting in the audience with my youngest daughter on my lap, I began praying from the depths of my heart to Jesus that He would send His Spirit to enlighten the thousands of people watching this wondrous scene with the splendor of His Truth:
The angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For today in the City of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find and Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
(Luke 2: 9-12)
At five o’clock the show ended and also my private worship. My husband and I put our two daughters in their stroller and exited the auditorium into the streets of New York City. We walked about one block when my new cell phone rang. No one had been given my telephone number yet. I had brought in case we needed to make some calls. I answered the ring but no one spoke. My husband then said, “Maybe it is your dad calling to tell you that Nana has died”. I responded, “Dad doesn’t have my number.”
Deep inside I heard the still small Voice of the Lord speaking to my heart telling me He had taken Nana to be with Him.
We returned to Pennsylvania about 10 pm that night, and as we were entering our house, our telephone was ringing. I answered. It was my father who was calling. He told me that Nana had passed away quietly with a peaceful expression on her face a short time after five o’clock that afternoon with both her sons – my father and uncle – at her bedside. Dad had not tried to contact me in New York City not wanting to disturb my family’s joy during our Christmas outing.
I am sure that it had been Heaven calling to tell us of Nana’s safe passage into Eternal Life in the glorious Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Author’s Note: After entering into the Catholic faith in 2004 I reflected back on this mysterious command I received from our Lord to “baptize” my grandmother. While I cannot say that I know for certain why the Lord asked me to do this, since becoming a Catholic Christian I have learned the divine teachings of our holy Church. We Catholics make regular renewals of our Baptismal Vows as we enter the church when we dip our fingers into the holy water and make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves. At other times we make acts of faith as we are sprinkled with holy water during the Mass. In those times of our “renewal of baptismal” vows we denounce Satan and all his deceptions and empty promises and profess our belief and trust in Our Lord Jesus Christ anew and reaffirm our faith in His Holy Word and divine teaching of His Holy Church. Perhaps this is what the Lord effected for my grandmother to fully prepare her to bring Nana to Himself.