Asking in Faith, Loving in Vows

Kate Lesnefsky // Tales From the Trenches


January 14  

Today’s first reading from the 1 Samuel is the story about Hannah, the mother of the prophet, Samuel. As she was in the temple begging God for a son, the priest Eli noticed her desperate manner and asked if she was drunk. Hannah vowed that if God granted her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord. As she is leaving, Eli tells her that the Lord will answer her prayer. She soon becomes pregnant and gives birth to Samuel which means, “I asked for him.”

This story reminds me of another story where someone “asked for him” and makes a vow. The story is about my great-great-grandmother, Philomena, and has been passed down to me by my grandpa, Papa Shy. When he was a little boy, Sylvester (or “Shy” as he was called) climbed a fence he wasn’t supposed to and gouged his arm on a metal spike. He was afraid to tell his mom because she, as I have heard, wasn’t the most approachable Italian woman in the small immigrant town of Ashtabula, Ohio. So little Shy kept the injury hidden until about a week later when he came down with a raging fever. This was back in 1918 before the advent of penicillin, so by the time the wound was discovered, my grandfather had developed gangrene and was sent to the hospital, scheduled to have his arm amputated. His devout grandmother, Philomena, was a woman of faith like Hannah in the first reading. She went to the hospital the night before the surgery, and as my grandfather told me, she whispered in his ear in Italian, “Don’t be afraid, Sylvester,” as she picked him up. Philomena then carried him to the local Catholic church where he remembers the cool feeling of the marble on his fevered head as she laid him down on the altar steps. She promised that if the Lord healed him, she would walk barefoot from her house to Mass every year on my grandfather’s birthday which is March 1. The next thing my grandpa remembers is waking up in the hospital the next morning feeling a lot better with some confused doctors standing by his bed. But my great-great-grandma was not confused, and she walked to church (about a mile) barefoot every year in the dead of winter to fulfill her vow to the Lord in thanksgiving for healing my grandpa’s arm.

I can think of many other women in my own life who have been like Hannah and Philomena, strong women of faith who poured out their hearts to the Lord and made vows to him. Catholics have a deep understanding of vows, knowing that our works don’t save us, but vows are our chance to return to the Lord the faithfulness he has shown. Stories like these make me reflect, Do I have faith that the Lord hears and answers my prayers, enough to cry out to him in my deepest need? What vows have I made that I need to be faithful to? I know I have promised years’ worth of Rosaries that I still need to say to God for different prayer intentions. Even more importantly, I stood at the altar on my wedding day and made a vow to love and honor my husband every day of my life. God has been faithful in pouring out grace upon grace on our sacrament. Have I been as faithful to my end of the deal? What ways can I more concretely love and honor my husband each day? The Lord loves us so much that he hears and answers our prayers, and our vows are our way of loving the Lord back through our actions. I hope to be more like Hannah and Philomena: asking in faith and loving in vows.

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