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The Most Needed Virtue

Page after well-worn page—and the one that revealed my mother’s secret

An old holy book illuminated by a small candle

When my mother died I wanted something that had belonged to her, but not just a memento. I wanted something I could use, so I asked my siblings if I could have her missal, the prayer book she took with her to early mass each morning. No one objected, and I collected my legacy from the top of her dresser in the upstairs bedroom.

When I got back to New York after the funeral, I looked through the old and tattered book. In it Mother had inserted special prayers on holy cards, prayers for peace, for missionaries, for friends, for my father, who had died 11 years before—a catalog of concerns that she carried with her every day to church, expressions of the faith and hope and love that seemed as much a part of her as the color of her fine brown eyes.

From that old missal I learned something I had never known about my mother. I’d always thought her virtues were something she’d been born with, a genetic endowment, so effortless, so pervasive had they been. I can’t say I envied her easy goodness; I just took it for granted the way I took for granted the bread she baked and the clothes she sewed. Then, leafing through the missal, I came to a page that was about one-third gone.

This was obviously the page she came to most often. The edge was yellow and brown where her touch over the years had worn the paper to dust, obscured words and ended sentences in mid-phrase. I looked at the top of the page. It said “Prayer for Perseverance.” This, then, was the secret behind her “obvious” goodness; this was the most needed virtue of all, the one that reinforced and nourished all the rest.

I had to smile. The prayer, the words, the page had been worn away by nothing more, nothing less, than perseverance itself. Her prayer, apparently, had been answered.

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A Grateful Heart Devotional Journal

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