Ed. This article first appeared in The Hebrew Catholic, #80.
by Barbara Hackett
I was one of two daughters born ten years apart to Jewish parents. Mother was of English ancestry, arriving in America via a coal tanker, and Father was born in America of Russian heritage. Each parent lived their complete life with the same mother, yet both had several fathers.
Father’s original last name was Sinner. As the story goes, one day as Father, age 14, was walking down 34th street in New York City, he looked up and on a billboard was the name “Hackett”, after which he immediately proclaimed, “Hackett will be my name. I will not be known by my fellow man as a sinner, by name or by deed.” Thus began the origin and character of a small family.
I loved both my parents. They both elicited a fear and reverence which was to last all the days of my life. Mother was more overt with her communication. Father had a quiet presence about him and did not waste words, only speaking when he felt it necessary. They were both very intimidating to a submissive, obedient child as myself, yet their staunch characters did not waver in the most trying of all family trials.
I greatly admired Father in his continuous endeavors to support a family in a most respectful manner. Father was humble, proud, and never spoke about other people. He always demonstrated respect for his fellow man whether it be family, friend, or foe. As I grew toward adulthood, I secretly had him as my role model, and still do.
We lived down the street from a small Jewish synagogue. We always dressed our best to attend all holy days along with Sabbath services held every Friday evening. Remembering those days of family life brings tears of the past for all that is lost and all that will be seen again in the kingdom of Heaven.
My earliest recollections of attending temple are listening to the wonderful stories of the rabbi, the ever so delicious tasting cookies after services, the dancing, singing, and all the giggling in the painful attempt of having to learn Hebrew! I can visualize my young self playing Good Queen Esther dancing about, singing the Psalms of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One.”
So innocent was I, in a time when the synagogue had been desecrated with painted swastikas. I had no idea of the darkness of the world.
There was a tremendous train wreck on Long Island. Every day sister would board the 5:15 p.m. express from Grand Central Station, New York, back to Babylon. The radio announced a devastating accident that killed all on the train. Mother was crying, screaming for hours. She had believed my sister was dead. Holding my mother’s hand, I kept telling her that sister never got on the train and that the Lord would bring her home. Hours later, sister walked into the house giggling. She had decided not to take the train home that night and went out for dinner and ice cream! Mother grabbed my hand and fainted. I was eight years old, and sister was 18. I knew that my sister’s life was in God’s hands – it was His will that she live and not die.
Primary school was difficult for me. Family kept me cloistered so very much that I knew nothing of the outside world; except for my home and synagogue, I was overcome by a culture and time I did not understand.
I continued to be a happy child despite the ravaging assaults of school children and neighborhood children who were obviously driven by the backlash of the draining effect of the War (WWII). America was embarking toward a new decade and people were trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, after the much denied unnecessary slaughter of the Innocents. While I was a teenager, there continued to be an aftermath of hatred, prejudice and general apathy toward one’s fellow man. Many times I denied my religion. I felt such shame and embarrassment. It was easier to be just like the rest of the adolescents than to go through rejection, refusal to clubs, etc. It became simple to deny my very beginning. It was a lonely period. I rationalized my behavior by all the awards, trophies, and honors I brought home. No one had to know the truth. My parents were proud and happy. It felt good to be in the limelight of my fellow peers. But, I knew, my Lord was crying.
Marriage to a stranger of seven months began a tumultuous passage yielding two children, a boy and girl. Poorly prepared for the state of matrimony, my coping mechanisms hardly having reached any semblance of maturity, I had to shift to new and challenging gears. The relationship lasted nine years and left me with many seen and unseen scars. It was a marriage of physical and mental abuse. In my naivete, I knew in my heart that this type of marital environment was dreadfully toxic.
Violence in a marriage carries the stench of an insidious venom likened to the darkside. The pain associated with each and every passing moment has a tendency to go deeper and deeper into the pit of despair until all around, you cannot be identified. Normal becomes abnormal, right becomes wrong, all cognitive abilities past and present are dissipated. The future does not exist. I was ashamed to admit to anyone what I was experiencing – and I never did, until it was too late. To this day, I do not know why I remained in such a most unfavorable situation.
Emotionally and financially I was alone, alone with two children to support. My focus remained unstructured. I stumbled and fell, picked myself up, then fell again. God loves all his adopted children so much that he dearly gave us the gift of free will. So, once again, I began to test the waters of my decisions.
Survival became an everyday manipulation, whereby many times I had to resort to pure selfishness for all involved. Returning to college was a difficult but necessary alternative in order for the burdens to be lessened to create financial stability. Motherhood diminished, and a new-founded liberalism got in the way of any semblance of Dr. Spock or his credo.
Experiences in the job market were multifaceted and many. Each day brought forth a growth and development that was never ending.
In the beginning of my life, I always remember enjoying being around people. I would remember the laughter, the total irresponsibility of a happy youth and all the unique moments that individuals have to relate to in their growth years. As I matured, all that I observed and experienced from people was disappointment, sorrow, anger, stress, and heartache. It became easier to love people from a distance. Loving is very painful. Along with the joy associated with love is the suffering.
The loss of my daughter was devastating. I walked around like the living dead – it was as if a part of my heart was ripped out of my chest. She did not die – but she might as well have been dead. Her needs … did not agree with my idealism; thus, there was a malignant parting of mother and child. She left at 15, got married, had two children. Our relationship ended so abruptly that the very breath was knocked out of me in one single moment. It has been well over 15 years since we have seen one another. We have spoken, but only for short seconds of time. Reconciliation never comes – she remains a flickering candle. Her brother remains a distant memory. It all happened so very fast. Almost as quick and violent as a bolt of lightning without any notice, and yet a soul is left standing at the edge of the precipice waiting to fall, unaware that they are still standing in an upright position.
Did you ever listen to the scream of your soul? The body has choices when the mind is weak. My body decayed so rapidly that I was facing my own extinction. Each of us is given an appointed angel by God. Several times during my life I have faced a certain demise when (instead), I was plucked up and given the gift of survival.
I arrived in the Chosen Place in 1987. I was fortunate to encounter a gentleman who had recently returned from a religious pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. Since June 1981, the Virgin Mary has been appearing to a group of young children in a small village in Yugoslavia. So began the pilgrimage for millions of people who were seeking either physical healing or spiritual renewal. Some just went out of curiosity to see the sun spinning. All were going to find a message of hope and no one would ever be the same again. As the story of the Virgin Mary was unfolding, I became more and more curious.
On February 27, 1992, I was standing in front of a window in a hospital room where I was working. Piously, I held my hands together and closed my eyes from the brilliance of the sun and prayed these words: “Holy Mother of God, protect my eyes from the sun and show me your glorious colors.” I repeated these prayers ten times, then opened my eyes to see the brightness of the sun totally gone. The entire brightness of the sun was solidly black with magnificent colors being thrown out from the edges of the center. The sun began to dance and spin like a top. My eyes were completely open at all times. It was truly a miracle. My body began to quiver, and all at once I knew I was in the presence of God. There were tears rolling down my face. It was simply as if someone had spoken to me and the message that had been given to me was from the Blessed Virgin. This experience happened for three days, and my soul was touched. Thus my religious journey began. I felt as if I had been submerged in a pool of pure white light which was complete love and mercy. Soon after this experience I made a career move which I knew would only last a short time, but it was necessary.
I had formed a wonderful friendship with the owner of a local religious shop. Every month I would go to browse, looking at the religious articles with a thirst that could not be quenched. Each and every time the owner of the store embraced my visit with enthusiasm and delight. One of the items I bought was a tape of Rosaries. Oddly enough, my car radio was not working and each day as I drove home from my job I listened intensely to the mysteries of the Rosary. Initially the tapes were soothing to me, since my job was highly stressful; so the tapes gave me a chance to relax. The Rosary tapes were addictive and to this day remain a mystery to me.
I had decided to leave the job and work with an entirely different clientele. The new job environment was entirely different from all prior jobs, and 100% less stressful. My heart was touched, and for the first time in a long time, I actually felt as if I was capable of loving again.
February, 1994. It was a cold wintry night, and I had just returned from working an evening shift. The house was quiet, and I wasn’t quite ready for sleep. I lay down in the middle of the bed watching local news and weather. I am not sure if I was sleeping or just drifted off in a semi-sleep/wake state. Suddenly, a man appeared to me. He had dark hair, a long dark beard, deep blue eyes, and his body was totally covered with blood. He looked at me with his head tilted to one side. His head had a crown of thorns on it, interspersed with drippings of bright blood. I quickly ran to the bathroom to secure a wash cloth to wipe the blood off his body. As I returned to the room, he was standing in front of me. He was dressed in a brilliant white robe with his arms outstretched to me. The white robe was so bright, yet I could look directly at him. I had never seen such a light so brilliant on this earth. He spoke to me with the most peaceful voice, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He spoke other words which I do not remember. I sat up in bed so quickly following this episode that my heart was pounding, and I ran to the dining room where I sat the entire remainder of the evening and night. I felt frightened and bewildered.
I went to see my friend at the religious bookstore in hopes that he could shed some semblance of understanding to what I had experienced. As I related my story, he simply embraced me, and we both cried. But I was far from ready to understand what had happened. I knew my life had changed, but I continued to question, analyze, interpret all the possibilities. Time passed, and four years later, after relentless scrutiny, I knew in my heart that Our Lord Christ Jesus had miraculously appeared to me.
In the spring of 1997, I spoke with a Catholic priest for one hour of intense questioning. In October, I began RCIA classes to enter the Catholic faith. RCIA was a wonderful experience filled with learning, new companionship of fellow converts, and a joy of knowing Christ.
Since I was not permitted to receive the Eucharist at Sunday Mass, I did partake of every other aspect of the Mass. I would cry every time I went into the church somewhere during the ceremony. The emotion just seemed to sneak up on me and caught me off guard so many times that I found myself hiding my face during the mass. The joy that I feel each time I am before the Blessed Sacrament cannot be compared or described by humankind. It is only through worship and love of Our Lord Christ Jesus that one experiences profound joy and total completeness. On one particular occasion, I was watching the parishioners receiving Communion when I began to experience their pain and sorrow. As each person ate and drank of the precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord, I began to sob unceasingly as if I could see through Christ’s eyes all the suffering they were going through in their lives. It was a heart-wrenching encounter, so traumatic that I began to see my fellow man in a new and different way.
At times I felt so joyful that I could not contain myself. I was so overcome with my love of Jesus that I simply could not understand the passion I felt, nor do I; but I totally accept all he has given to me. The mercy that he has shown me, just one mere sinner, is overwhelming. There is no other love but His.
I related all that had happened to me to my family, and since that time I have been chastised and forgotten by all of them. I could not give up my new Heavenly Father, or Mother, for my earthly family. There is no substitute.
One day as I stopped for gas, I had the desire to indulge in all sorts of sweets, so I purchased three candy bars, gum, and life savers. I was leaving the gas station and opening my car door when someone said, “You don’t really need all that, do you?” My natural response was to simply turn around and respond with some retort, but when I completely turned around, there was absolutely no one in sight! I threw the candies on the floor of the front seat of the car and just sat in the car to regain my composure before going off to work.
April 9th is my birthday, and the past year, 1998, it was on Holy Thursday, and I was to participate in the church activities. After the Mass there was to be adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I was sitting in the pew watching people go to the altar rail, pray, and give reverence to the Lord.
I kept twisting in my seat. I desired to go up to the Lord and do the same, but I felt totally ignorant, and I did not want to make any mistakes or bring dishonor to the Blessed Sacrament. My dear friend was talking to me, and we were just about to leave when I heard an interior voice say, “Come to me – Come to me.” So I got up and went to the altar rail and knelt down and bowed my head and burst into tears of joy. I felt so very blessed that Jesus had come for me, a sinner, that all at once I cried like a baby, crying to the Father, thanking Him for His mercy. It was a wonderful birthday.
April 11, 1998. My profession of faith was completed with Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. The candle-lit ceremony was so perfect. On the document I received after the events of that glorious evening there was a picture of a green pasture with these words printed below: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14), the same words that were spoken to me by Our Lord on a cold winter’s night in 1994.
During the year of RCIA, I also had to obtain an annulment from my marriage. On May 28, 1998, the Rochester tribunal declared my marriage invalid, and the decree of nullity was granted soon after my Baptism.
Going to Mass is the joy of my life. I feel like a zealot, and I can definitely identify with St. Paul on the road to Damascus.
My work schedule was such that I was able to go to morning Mass at least three times a week. I would go early so I could participate in the Rosary.
On one occasion, I received the Eucharist and felt as if my soul were plucked out of my chest. On another occasion, (after) I had received the Eucharist, I could not move my body. I felt like my body was a thousand pounds. I began to pray quietly to myself, and the words were coming out in slow motion, so I decided to just sit there. I composed myself, then left the church only to sit in my car. I did not have the energy to turn my ignition key. It took me about one hour to recover. I thought I was experiencing a stroke.
I usually go to Queen of Peace Apostolate night, if my work schedule permits. One evening I had brought a friend who had not gone to Confession in over 30 years. As she came from the confessional, she had a magnificent glow about her, and I sobbed uncontrollably. She thought that I was sorrowful for the lack of my family, and I simply told her I could sense her joy of reconciliation from the Lord.
I could go on with story after story, but the truth is that I, a simple soul, was lost and now was found again. I am not sure of the road our Lord has chosen for me, but I do know that Sarah was born April 11, 1998. Sarah was blessed and given so many graces that she, being me and I being her, could hardly desire anything more than what I have been given …