By Father John Donovan/ SUN contributing writer
In Luke’s gospel (2: 36-38) there is a women who I have recognized throughout my whole life. The prophetess, Anna speaks to all who listen after she has seen the infant Jesus in the temple, she states redemption of Jerusalem was in their midst. I have often wondered with what she actually said, who would listen? She had been in the temple as a widow for about sixty years; she was a fixture, and the person who is often only noticed once she is out of place.
This is about Mrs. Ethel Casey, Anna, a witness, a prophetess and a fixture. Growing up, I like so many others knew where to find her at 6:45 AM, third pew on the left. She had walked down her hill each morning and would take a ride home after Mass. Her Christmas cookies simply have to be mentioned. Yet, who she was to so many was an example of faith and commitment. I cannot tell you much about her; other than regardless of weather, time of year or current events, Mrs. Casey was at morning liturgy for several decades. When we would speak of the “person in the pew” in theology classes, she was always the first person who came to mind. She was my measure of faith that could question and still be staunchly committed. She is my measure still today, although she has passed, I recognize her wherever I go.
There are collections of women who have met the Mrs. Casey measure, in the parishes I have served and in every parish. They are the “church ladies” who many people in the parish recognize. They are recognized by where they sit, or they run the human development committees and coordinate food baskets, or they lead the rosary, or they have taught first grade religious education for the last thirty years. Often, but not necessarily they are daily communicants. Small children commonly recognize them in the parish, because they will wave, or by teens because they have come to expect to see them at their church, which would not be the same without them. They occasionally are invited to the baptism and confirmation parties and at times even weddings, because families have grown to expect them to be a part of their lives due to their gentle wisdom and their deep faith.
These Annas serve us, the Church, in ways we do not realize. They are an example to us, they challenge us and they even affirm us when we least expect or think worthy. They embarrass easy or scoff when we try to tell them of how they are an inspiration, for they understand they are simply an instrument, it is not about them.
If we wish to pray for vocations encourage and invite young people to service, we must look to the Annas. They exemplify the humility, service, commitment and faith for which we seek in our candidates, and which we can measure. The invitation to serve as a priest or religious will be heard coming from the Annas often before they are heard coming from family members.
Mrs. Casey was at my ordination party and first Mass. To all the other Annas or Ethels, Brendas, Angies, Marys, Bettys, Glorias, Sylvias, or Cindys just to insert a few names, thank you and pray for us.