by Lillian Csernica on May 10, 2018
Today’s fortune says:
Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.
All God’s Children
Gloria had a rough time living up to her name. During some Christmas when she was just a little girl, somebody had told her about “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Gloria liked the sound of “Glory to God in the highest” in Latin and in plain English. She figured out “the highest” meant Heaven. It was the other thing she figured out that ended up causing all the trouble.
Gloria’s mother Jenny started out looking a trifle too wild for the folks at St. Michael’s. She had tattoos, a few piercings, and a braid dyed pink and blue and purple. She turned up in the soup kitchen on the same weekend we were there serving dinner. Three of our church ladies had done the cooking. I was the parish council Treasurer in those days. I played a fair amount of football in college, so a big solid linebacker came in handy loading and unloading the church van as well as making sure our church ladies didn’t have any trouble with some of the rougher folks we served.
Jenny started to turn up at St. Michael’s on Sundays. At first she just needed the box of donated food from the church pantry. Pretty soon she was coming to Mass. She wore long sleeves and left most of her jewelry at home, and covered up her hair with a nice floral scarf. In the beginning Jenny was just being polite, showing respect and coming to Mass as a way of saying thank you for the help we gave her. The one time I saw Gloria’s daddy out in the parking lot, it was obvious he wasn’t much of a church-going man. Reminded me of the more unpleasant type of tough guy who spent most of his time pickled in alcohol.
Jenny gave birth to Gloria the day after Christmas. By then Jenny had been coming to St. Michael’s for over a year, helping clean the church and the hall, working in the garden, and pitching in wherever help was needed. She was grateful for all the help the ladies gave her, making sure she saw the doctor and took her vitamins and knew what to expect. Jenny showed her gratitude the best way she knew how, with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Whoever she had been, she let that phase of her life go. She’d more than proven herself to be a good woman with proper manners and a kind heart.
Jenny asked Fr. Daniel if he’d baptize Gloria, and he was happy to oblige. He offered Jenny the same opportunity, and she accepted. That was one of the happiest days at St. Michael’s I was ever privileged to see. Jenny never talked much about herself or where she’d come from. That didn’t matter so much. She’d joined the family of our parish.
Poor Gloria. When her mama was a wild child who worked hard to do right by her baby, that meant Gloria had a lot to live up to, especially being a girl. Everything seemed to be just fine until the day Marigold moved into the apartment next door to Jenny and Gloria. Confirmation classes had started, so Gloria was twelve, that dangerous age between child and teenager, between playing with dolls and wanting to hang out with the big kids. Marigold was a sweet enough woman, fresh and pretty with her white blonde hair and ’60s style clothes. She wore enough bracelets and necklaces to sink a battleship. We always knew when Marigold was coming because she jingled louder than the bells on Santa Claus’ sleigh.
Marigold’s front yard was full of garden gnomes and copper dragonflies and wind chimes and bird feeders and those colorful flowers with big petals that spun in a stiff breeze. Gloria loved it, and she loved Marigold’s black cat Sable. Jenny told me later that she should have been more careful about letting Gloria run over to Marigold’s place so much. Jenny knew what all the candles and crystals and little fairy figurines meant.
Marigold called herself a witch.
I’ll admit that caused some of us at St. Michael’s quite a bit of worry. Fr. Daniel just smiled and reminded us to look to the health and well-being of our own souls. So we watched and we waited.
Gloria took an interest in all the pets in the neighborhood. Cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs. There was one boa constrictor, but Jenny was relieved to see Gloria had no desire to play with it. This all seemed like a healthy, innocent hobby, even when Gloria wanted to start having little birthday parties for the pets. Jenny noticed Gloria was spending a lot more time at the library. When she wasn’t there, she was over at Marigold’s place.
Gloria had a problem. The animals couldn’t talk. How could she find out what to give them for birthday presents? Marigold let her borrow a book on astrology. That’s what started it. Gloria looked up all the birth dates she’d been able to learn, and then made up a few for the animals whose owners had no idea. She ended up with a notebook full of page after page devoted to each pet and what the astrology book said about its sign.
Giving Sable a birthday party with a Leo theme seemed harmless enough. Catnip toys and kitty treats and a special salmon cake. Gloria had saved up her pocket money.
This led to reading more books about stranger subjects. Jenny put her foot down and sent Gloria to have a talk with Fr. Daniel. I’d have given a lot to listen in on that conversation. I was in the church hall when the two of them came out of Fr. Daniel’s office. He thanked Gloria for giving him so much to think about. Gloria said she’d take “those” books back to the library.
Advent had come round again. That Sunday Fr. Daniel gave a sermon we’d all remember.
“In the Bible Christ tells the Apostles, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ I have many books in my library. Many of the writings of the Holy Fathers. Recently I learned an important lesson, and it came to me not through ancient teachings but from the goodness of a child.
“Our dear Gloria explained to me that she had finally understood the true meaning of her name. It comes from ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which is ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ When she first learned to read, Gloria saw all the tags on the Christmas presents. They said To and From. Some also read From and To. Gloria thought about the Latin phrase and in her innocence believed the angel must have left out a word. Gloria wanted to do as the angel said and give the Baby Jesus a birthday present. She believed the angel meant to say, “From Gloria, To God in the highest.”
A murmur of fond amusement swept through the nave.
“Gloria knows that God created all creatures great and small. Her recent practice of giving birthday parties to the pets in her neighborhood is her way of giving God the pleasure of seeing her show love to His creatures by celebrating the days they entered Creation.”
Fr. Daniel paused and looked down at his notes. He cleared his throat, sniffed, and blinked a few times.
“I want to thank Gloria for sharing this with me. In this season of celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us all keep in mind that we are all God’s creatures, two-legged and four-legged. Let us celebrate the image and likeness of God everywhere we find it, and give thanks for finding it in so many, many places.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
With one voice, we all answered, “Amen!”
Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to Archpriest Basil Rhodes and all the folks at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Saratoga, CA. They were kind enough to teach me many lessons about how much God loves us.