When I was a young college seminary student, I remember reading the powerful book, But With The Dawn, Rejoicing”. My classmate, Fr. René Butler, M.S., recalls the content of this remarkable book:
“It was the autobiography of a woman named Mary Ellen Kelly. In her teens she had begun to develop rheumatoid arthritis. By the age of 20 she was almost totally immobile. On a train she couldn’t use the sleeper car, but had to travel in the baggage car, strapped to a board. She had the use of only two fingers on one hand; it once took her over two hours to write a note just twenty-five words long. She had plenty of reason to feel sorry for herself, and indeed she did.
“In due time, however, she met Fr. Joseph Higgins, a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette. One day he “read her the riot act,” so to speak, and shocked her into the realization that, especially as a woman of faith, her handicap gave her no excuse to do nothing. She began writing a monthly newsletter called “Seconds Sanctified,” specifically for shut-ins like herself. She had always been a devout Catholic, and now had discovered her place in the Church, encouraging others never to lose faith. In 1959 she wrote But With The Dawn Rejoicing.”
The apt title of this book comes from Psalm 30, describing the Psalmist’s own honest, open and prayerful reflections on the many challenges of his life and how God helped him. Mary Ellen Kelly found solace and inspiration in his words in Psalm 30, verses 2-6:
I praise you, Lord, for you raised me up... I cried out to you for help and you healed me... you let me live... Sing praise to the Lord, you faithful; give thanks to his holy memory. For... his favor (lasts) a lifetime. At dusk weeping comes for the night, but with the dawn, rejoicing.”
What suddenly helped her to snap out of her own cycle of self-loathing and felling sorry for herself? A person to remind her of the hope deep within us that springs eternal.
We have our own inspiring persons of note: for example, Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year old Pakistani girl, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for speaking out for the rights of girls to be educated. Following her struggle to cover from the gunshot wound, she was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi. This remarkable teenager became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
Probably each of us knows of some remarkable person who inspires us and gives us hope. Perhaps they too were confronted or supported by a special person just as Mary Ellen Kelly was enlightened by Fr. Joe Higgins, M.S., so many years ago.
I’m sure that we have all been to funerals that began sadly and ended even worse. Fortunately I have been to services of close friends which began in deep sorrow for their loss but remarkably ended in a note of hope and even joy for their unique gift to our family and to those far beyond the confines of our own circle of friends.
In order to discover what life is all about and share the best part of us, first we need to discover who we are and what we are here for. In religious terms, this is called our vocation in life, whatever that may be.
If we make the continued effort to selflessly give to others without counting the cost, then, as countless people are most willing to testify to, we shall receive much more than we were able to share. That’s what true love does... repeatedly and with the hope and dedication that only God can give. The promise is: “At dusk weeping comes for the night, but with the dawn, rejoicing.”