Our first reading for Thursday's¬†Mass is rich with allegorical meaning and was the favorite of many writings of reflection¬†in the Tradition. It is the familiar story of the faith of Abraham and the test which he endured. That test showed the depth of the faith of this man called our father in faith in the Canon of the Holy Mass. However, for me, when I hear of the ram in the thicket, I am drawn back to a woman I met many years ago. Her name was Wanda. She was a simple woman, a Christian, and a dedicated mother. I would come to discover that she was much more. She was a mystic.
Ram Caught in a Thicket
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Our first reading for today's Mass is rich with allegorical meaning and was the favorite of many writings of reflection¬†in the Tradition.¬†It is the familiar story of the faith of Abraham and the test which he endured. That test showed the depth of the faith of this man called our father in faith in the Canon of the Holy Mass.
However, for me, when I hear of the ram in the thicket, I am drawn back to a woman I met many years ago. Her name was Wanda. She was a simple woman, a Christian, and a dedicated mother. I would come to discover that she was much more. She was a mystic.
She contacted me because she needed legal help and, at the time I was engaged in the private practice of law. Barely making ends meet, supporting her family day to day, she hadn't budgeted for a major car disaster. That old thing had held up pretty well. However, the transmission was shot and she had to take it in for repair.
Wanda left her car at the repair shop and waited for the bad news. It was worse than she had expected! The cost of repair was beyond anything she had even braced for. What followed was worse.
After the repairs were done, the serviceman had parked the car out in front of the shop (located in the inner city) with the keys in the ignition. His excuse was that the garage was full! Not surprisingly, Wanda's car was stolen!
Not only was the insurance company offering less than what she owed (Wanda had been the victim of a loan company that committed usury---taking advantage of her disadvantage) but the repair shop was insisting on being paid for the repairs!
A friend told Wanda that I might be able to help even though she could not afford a lawyer. She also heard that I was a man of faith. By the time it was all over, it was Wanda who had helped me. She changed my life.
I did the dance I had learned to do after all those years of law practice. I negotiated, first from a position of what was just, and only then, when it became clear that the parties were not altruistic, by shifting the risk.
After all, who in a small claims court environment was going to be sympathetic to a business that parked a customer's car outside in a high crime district with the keys inside? What usurious loan company that took advantage of the disadvantaged would not be expected to write off part of ill gotten gains rather than run the risk of public exposure for charging exorbitant rates and questionable business practices?
At each step of the dance I kept Wanda informed. She was without a car, taking a bus daily to work, and had increased her hours in order to pay for the added expenses occasioned by the loss of her means of transportation. She never complained. Rather, she always responded with an extraordinary confidence that God would provide and take care of her family.
Her response to difficulty was not anger, blame or the naive kind of starry-eyed faith of a new convert. She was strong and resolute. It was a deep kind of conviction birthed in the furnace of failure, disappointment and perseverance. She KNEW that God would make a way.
When it was all over and Wanda was able to walk away with no financial obligations, I felt good. She deserved it. I enjoyed hearing her sincere "God bless you" on the other end of the telephone line.
We both went on with our lives.
Four weeks later, I was facing a severe crisis in my own life and career. I had long ago learned that living by faith simply does not mean that everything will go smoothly. Anyone who says otherwise is , simply wrong.¬†But this crisis was not bearing the fruits that redemptive suffering, joined to the cross, had done in my life in the past. In short, I was in serious funk, depressed, despondent and hopeless.
I received a card in the mail from Wanda. Inside she expressed her gratitude for my legal assistance and wrote these words: "There is always a ram in the thicket." I was sure I recognized the reference but I was somewhat puzzled. I searched the scriptures and found them in the first Book of the Bible, Genesis:
"Abraham looked and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place 'The Lord will provide' ". (Genesis 22:13-14)
The story of Abraham's life of faith provides an insight into the Christian life. He is championed, among other New Testament passages, in the hall of heroes of the faith detailed in the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews for good reason. Real faith is often tried, and in the trial, it is purified and made stronger. That is why his faith is presented as a model throughout the Christian tradition.
The early Father's of the Church expounded upon his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (the son of the promise) as a prototype of what we moderns would call "where the rubber hit's the road" in understanding and living the life of real faith. Abraham was a man who lived complete abandonment to -and trust in-God.
Wanda was truly his daughter. I had much to learn and she was one of teachers who the Lord had sent to me. She was the angel who would show me that there is always a ram in the thicket.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours one morning, I read these words from the great mystic priest John of the Cross: "Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross."
My personal difficulties did not subside and the circumstances did not change, at least not immediately. However, I began to have new eyes with which to to see the "ram in the thicket." Over the months the darkness subsided and I began to understand.
"The Lord will provide." Wanda was right.
Like John of the Cross-and all the sons and daughters of Abraham throughout the ages, she had uncovered the hidden treasures mined only at the foot of the Cross. It was there that Love Himself became the offering. It is there where suffering and sorrow are bathed in Blood.
She, like the women at the foot of the Cross, understood. I believe Wanda is a mystic.
Oh, some may¬†object to my use of the word. After all, she had no theological education, no clerical office, and little notoriety. All the more reason for me to believe, she was a gift, and an angel from God.
The same Epistle that teaches us about Abraham tells us that angels (the word means messenger) can show up when you least expect them. The writer reminds us: "Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:1-2)
He invites us all into living the holy oblation. When we accept the invitation we always find the ram in the thicket.
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