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A Leaven In The World . . . Friendship Born Of Providential Encounter

December 23, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


It was a chance meeting that perhaps could change a life. I wandered nonchalantly into an antiques store on a beautiful December day, my first ever in Savannah. After a post-Mass early morning bike ride to get the general lay of the metropolis, I was back out on foot, walking north from Forsyth Park toward the riverfront by means of Bull Street. It was close to noon and after checking out of my Airbnb.
One of the grand homes on one of the beautiful squares of the city shelters on its ground level a curiosity shop. Marked by the “antiques” sign, it is the kind of emporium filled with refined items that even before one enters instill confidence that there will be no buying. This enterprise is the sort that caters to the wealthy capable of furnishing the stately urban dwellings surrounding it for miles, or the well-heeled visitor entered elsewhere upon a like mission to preserve the best arts of the past in a suitable dwelling.
I immediately encountered the proprietor, who welcomed me to browse. We began to chat and I quickly found her to be of greater interest than the beckoning displays of beautiful, glittering, and costly merchandise. We began to talk about the higher things, with both of us revealing more about our lives. She and her husband, now octogenarians, had years ago home-schooled their six children, long before it had become the common alternative it is today. He retired from his work to join her in the effort full-time.
By birth a non-Catholic, she had accepted Baptism along with one of her children early in her marriage to Michael, an Italian Catholic from New Jersey. She was motivated to convert in part because she didn’t want to be one of those “with nose pressed to the glass viewing the life from outside.” At one point she and Michael packed up about 40 pieces of luggage and took their children for an extended stay in Florence as one phase of their education.
It was for this and other reasons that what she described was the intense and fulfilling experience that only a life involving both mother and father full time can be. After the children were grown, the father asked that none of them move more distant than a couple of hours away. Today the farthest one is in Jacksonville, not far off the paternally desired brief travel time.
I shared about my vocation in a traditional parish, an island of defense in a Church awash with moral and doctrinal compromise. She nodded repeatedly in understanding and agreement as I shared my experience of the undeniable fruits of the tradition, and the culture of faith and worship to which it has given birth in my parish family.
I complimented her and her husband and asked her to share my congratulations and best wishes with him. At first she asked me to wait, telling me she’d invite him to come down to the shop so that I could speak with him in person. She then quickly changed her mind and instead invited me up to the house.
We entered the tall Dutch baroque manse, trimmed generously in copper, through a heavy carved church door gifted to the original owners of the house by an ambassador. The structure dates to an antebellum foundation, with the Dutch façade placed over the original brick around the turn of the nineteenth century. Immediately upon entering the main floor one sees an image of our Lady displayed with a rosary. One is thus aware that souls for whom faith comes first dwell therein, given the evident culture represented by the furnishings of art and fine objects.
We sat in the parlor and chatted, some of our conversation in Italian, the husband being the child of Sicilian immigrants. We compared notes on our experiences of life in Italy. He also related more about educating his children, where they are today, and about their life in Savannah.
Among other achievements, a son has won a global architectural award for his redesign of the city riverfront and is involved in a project for the ground level of the Savannah Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
They attend the cathedral, love the Traditional Latin Mass, and continue to actively share the doctrine and practice of the faith with their children. They collect art, with major holdings in African-American and contemporary folk art, having founded Savannah’s Hurn Museum.
We spent almost an hour together, Michael explaining the nature of folk art and the origin and meaning of the several pieces of scripturally inspired paintings displayed in the parlor. Faith is at the root of the meaning at the heart of the highest expressions of culture.
Today all of the children practice the faith. Among them number daily communicants and some of the grandchildren serve Holy Mass as well. The life lessons of piety were well delivered and well received.
Michael and Valery get it. We clicked because they put first things first and give them the effort and priority they deserve. They understand that the family is under attack. They have lived out their vocation to marriage and family with the societal dangers in mind, educating and forming their children to strengthen them in virtue for an adequate defense of soul and intellect.
When the family is attacked, God, its source, is attacked as well. The Lord and the family go together, grace building on nature as the parents, the first teachers, hand on the truth by word and example.
The family has formed a consortium, which they have named the Knights Templar. They gather yearly to present scholarly papers on matters of faith and morals, drawing upon St. Thomas Aquinas among other trusted Catholic sources. By this means the effort to educate the members remains ongoing, a life project. I made known my desire to get to know them and the project better and to support it by offering the Traditional Mass for the family.
I have been blessed to make inspiring new friends after what seemed a chance meeting. But Valery and I agreed that our encounter was not entirely by chance, but was prepared ahead of time by the One who always guides our steps.
If you have been blessed with good parents like Michael and Valery, your first meeting with Christ through faith was not by chance. It’s the one providential encounter that can truly change your life, eternally.
Christmas is about this gift of the Savior, meant to be shared, but first by parents with their offspring. Pray for our families that they will be faithful and holy, as we contemplate again the Holy Family at Bethlehem where Christ the Son of Mary was born. I wish you and yours a most blessed Christmas, filled with the gift of grace which is ours abundantly through Christ whose birth we celebrate once again.
If you have enjoyed my columns please support faithful Catholic journalism by subscribing to The Wanderer today.
Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever.

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