On May 8, 1944 the Nazis arrested her on a train in her homeland, the Netherlands. A young woman involved in the Dutch Resistance during World War II, she had false identification papers and, at that time, also carried concealed documents and ration cards headed to one of the homes where Jews were hiding. Questioned about her ID, which didn’t match the standard issue, the Nazis arrested her and sent her to prison.
Living and working amongst the Jewish people compelled her to say, “Yes,” when a fellow co-worker asked her to hide him and his family. After seeing Jewish co-workers disappear one by one, she knew their lives were at stake and knew what God was asking of her. Her faith drove her to make that simple yes which marked the beginning of an amazing and horrible journey.
She has told me the story many times in many ways. Through it all, she speaks of the goodness and almighty nature of God. He is sovereign in all things – even the worst of the worst. On the wall of her cell, amid the death and squalor of the prison camp at Schevenigen, she carved her daily reminder of God’s promise: “Lo, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28:20), Jesus’ final words to his disciples before ascending to His Father.
We hear these same words in today’s gospel. I find it hard to imagine that scene and all that led up to it. Celebrating the holiest of days on Holy Thursday, the horror of Good Friday, the despair of Holy Saturday, and the amazement and rejoicing of Easter Sunday followed by forty days of Jesus walking among them. Then he leaves again. This time in a most mysterious way, but with it He makes them a promise, ” And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The promise of that day is the promise of this day. Whatever the circumstance, Jesus is with us. In all aspects of life, He is there. Whether we rejoice in someone’s presence or mourn their loss, He is there. Whether we have escaped the storm or have had everything destroyed, He is there. Whether we walk freely or are imprisoned for doing the right thing, He is there. In darkness and in light, God is faithful. We must pray for equal faithfulness. Only grace can give it to us.
We don’t know God’s plan, so we must trust in His love, His promises and His Providence. He knows what we need more than we do. He knows the best path to our holiness. He sees the whole parade; we only see what’s in front of us.
A single act of Divine intervention enabled her to get rid of the concealed documents before boarding another train for interrogation. His hand allowed her to escape certain death. Why she was spared and not her fiance who died at Auschwitz, we will never know. Suffering is a mystery. Giving us free will, God allows it; He redeems us through it; and He teaches us to love in spite of it.
She left her homeland after the war because the memories were so hard to bear. Through it all, she never lost her faith. At 91, she still clings to the Lord and His promises. When God spared her life on that fateful day in 1944, he already saw parts of the parade that were unknown to her. Much later in life, she would become my daughter’s grandmother. Had God not spared that brave young woman trying to protect His chosen people, I would not have my Mary. God knew my daughter then, and He called her by name.
I will never be the same.
So today, would you join me in praying Thomas Merton’s Prayer for Confidence in God, that we too will have the faith and courage to hold fast to His promises.
Dear God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe this:
I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.
I hope I have that desire in everything I do.
I hope I never persist in anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it at the time.
Therefore I will trust You always,
for though I may be lost,
and in the shadow of death,
I will not be afraid,
because I know You will never leave me to face my troubles all alone.
Jesus, I trust in You! Anne