Hope in the Lord — Mrs. Doyle’s cross

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

I found Mrs. Doyle’s cross this morning. I was trying to make room in my file cabinet for the homily notes that I have been saving for 45 years. And there it was.

The Doyle family lived three doors down from us when I was growing up. We all lived in row homes, about 11-and-a-half feet wide, each sharing a wall with our neighbors, and the Doyle wall was just 23 feet away. As neighbors we were all very close. I still have in my room an early photo of my brother George hugging one of the Doyle boys, Jackie. George, born with Down syndrome, was a great hugger. He looks to be about six so I imagine that I was about 12 months old, crawling around somewhere out of range of the photographer.

I remember that Mrs. Doyle was a very religious person. I recall seeing her walking to or from Mass each morning. One day after I entered the seminary, she gave me this cross, actually a crucifix with the corpus of Jesus hanging for love of us all. She said that she wanted me to have the crucifix. It belonged to her aunt who was a woman religious and when her aunt died, Mrs. Doyle was given this crucifix that her aunt likely wore for decades on a cord around her neck and visibly in front of her habit. Since I was studying to become a priest, Mrs. Doyle thought I might be a good keeper of this treasure.

I am so happy that I found it this morning. I shined it up and got most of the patina and dirt off. It is in a little case with a zipper, and so it has stood the course of time well.

Not only is it sentimental for me to be the steward of this crucifix, reminding me of my neighborhood and of the faith that seemed to permeate every nook and cranny of our block, but it also has helped me enter into the life of a person whom I never met.

I always loved the dedication of women religious. They taught me and provided me with good examples since my earliest age. I guess I always saw and admired those in my life as true servants of Jesus … always thinking of others. But reflecting on this crucifix hanging from the neck of a real person made me aware of the inner life of Mrs. Doyle’s aunt.

I pictured what a life of dedication must have looked like in those days. She must have died before 1965, and I imagine she may have worn that crucifix, putting it around her neck every morning, for at least four or five decades. I try to imagine her joy and fears, her ups and downs, her trust in Jesus through it all.

God grants vocations to each of us. It benefits us to examine one up close and even to imagine what it must have been like to serve each day. Every morning sisters and priests, moms and dads, teachers and nurses get up and put on their badge of service, mostly unnoticed.

April is the month in which Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who not only walks with us and cares for us, but also calls us. Just as he called Mrs. Doyle’s aunt, the echo of His voice continues through the centuries until He comes again.

It is good to salute vocations in the Church. I think I will keep Mrs. Doyle’s cross on the table in the chapel where I pray. May she be a saint in heaven, interceding for me and for all of us who take our vocation to follow Jesus seriously.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

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