By Spanish Catholic priest and award-winning writer Jose Luis Martin Descalzo (1930-1991), in Reasons for Hope, pages 1-4.
Anne is an elderly widow, a very elderly widow in fact, and a most proper widow. What I am about to tell you is an absolutely true story, for all that it might seem to be a fable.
Anne was unfortunate enough to become a widow four months after her wedding, for her husband Frank died in a far-off war in either Africa or Asia—she is not sure. What she does know is that Frank left her with next to nothing: a handsome old photograph now going yellow, some old silk sheets used only for the short time they were married, and a pension of a hundred dollars and a few cents.
And on this princely sum Anne survives, a gazelle from prehistoric times in a world populated by monsters. But Anne manages to make her hundred dollars last through the month, even taking into account the fact that of course the ﬁrst thing she does when she gets her pension on the thirtieth of each month is to spend a dollar on a candle that she lights in memory and in honor of Frank.
Some months ago she was paid her pension in a single hundred-dollar bill. Anne was delighted with the hundred-dollar bill, for it was the ﬁrst time she had had one, and to her it was like winning the lottery. But at the same time she was beset by the most acute attack of nerves at the thought that she might lose it. She would not be happy until she had changed it the next morning in the shop.
And the attack of nerves returned the following day, when she went to pay for the vegetables she had bought after mass. For she discovered that in spite of all her precautions, or perhaps because of them, the money had disappeared. She searched through her bag and tumed it inside out. Nothing. She went back no fewer than ﬁve times over the route she had taken from her house to the church and from the church to the market. Nothing. She looked under all the pews in the church and pushed aside all the furniture in her house to see underneath. Still nothing.
And now she was invaded by the most terrible anxiety. How was she going to get through those thirty awful, endless days till the end of the month when she did not have a cent in the bank and all the people whom she had known in this world had already passed on to the next? She went through all her things again and conﬁrmed once more that there was nothing of value left to sell … except of course the ancient silk sheets, a silver coffee service that had been a wedding present from her brothers and sisters, and an old medallion that had belonged to her mother. To sell any of those things would be like selling herself.
She made do that day with the leftovers from her old fridge and hardly slept at all that night. At one point, in a brief moment between one anxious dream and the next, the thought came to her: “That’s it, I must have lost it in the elevator, when I was going down to mass.” She got up shivering, put a coat on over her nightdress, and went out onto the stairs. But there was nothing either on the stairs or in the elevator. And she went back to bed like a woman who has just had her death sentence confirmed.
The next morning, on her way to mass (God was all that was left to her now), she put a little sign up in the elevator saying that if anyone had found a hundred-dollar bill, could they please return it to her. But she did it convinced in her heart that it was hopeless.
That was the saddest mass she had ever attended. When the priest began to pray the penitential rite, our most proper widow remembered how, in one of her comings and goings the day before, she had passed the other widow from the fourth floor on the stairs, the one whom all the neighbors called the merry widow, to distinguish her from Anne (and apparently the name was well deserved, from what people said). Anne remembered that the other widow had been carrying a beautiful new leather bag. That was where her money must have gone. It was as clear as the light of day.
But then, as the priest was reading from the Gospel, Anne remembered the two girls who lived on the third floor, the two who came back late every night with their boyfriends on big noisy motorcycles, and how the previous night they had come back even later than usual. She shuddered at the mere thought of what those two hussies might have done with her hundred dollars.
As the priest recited the offertory, she thought of the man who lived on the second ﬂoor, the butcher, a sour-faced communist whom she had met on the stairs yesterday and who had given her a nasty gloating look. Good God, what use might that communist have put her money to?
During the blessing it was the turn of Fred, the one whom they reckoned lived with a woman who was not his wife, to become the target of Anne’s suspicions. And since the mass went on for another ten minutes, Anne had plenty of time to go through all her neighbors, one by one, and convince herself that every single one of them had almost certainly appropriated the money that was her very lifeblood.
By the time she got back home, Anne was furious at the thought of living in a building that was such a pit of corruption. She went to open the door of her apartment, but as she did so, she slipped and dropped her missal. Twelve little votive cards and a hundred-dollar bill fell out! And quite suddenly it came to her that she was the one to blame, stupid woman that she was, and that all her suffering had been her own fault.
Just as she was getting ready to go to the market, on top of the world now, the doorbell rang. It was the widow from the fourth ﬂoor, who, just imagine, had found the money the day before in the elevator. And when she left, excusing herself and saying that somebody else living in the building must have dropped it, the two girls from the third ﬂoor came up and said that, amazingly, they had found a hundred dollars on the stairs as well. Next it was the butcher. He had not found the bill, but he wanted her to take ﬁve twenty-dollar bills wrapped in a little bundle. Then Fred came up, and a dozen more neighbors, and the funny thing was that they had all found the money on the stairs!
Anne could only cry for joy. For she realized that the world is a beautiful place and that people are good, and that she had only been polluting the world with the meanness of her fear.
I Timothy 6:3-5a — If anyone … does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of corrupt mind.
I Corinthians 4:2-5 — Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Luke 6:37 — (Jesus said), “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
O Lord, enlighten my heart, which evil has darkened.
O Lord, help me to think about what is good.
–Chrysostom, Archibishop of Constantinople (349-407)