By any of the usual measures, Mrs. Anderson was not an attractive woman. She was quite overweight, right down to her ankles. She walked with difficulty, breathing heavily. Her complexion was blotchy. Her hair usually unkempt and a bit greasy. She was sweet and kind-hearted, but beautiful? No.
I suppose it didn't help that I judged her with the perfectionist eyes of a seven year-old. Adults are often frightening creatures to children. Children do not understand aging. Children see their own smooth skin and recoil a bit from us. Children look right up our noses in dismay, and wonder why even the best-groomed adults radiate the unfamiliar scents of perfume, tobacco, or garlic.
In those days, my mother reminded me of no one more than Laura Petrie. Mrs. Anderson was something else altogether. I liked her well enough. She was a gentle soul, and patiently instructed us for our First Communion. She tolerated our rambunctious moods with good humor. I recognized her essential goodness. I just did not find her beautiful.
One morning, she arrived at class carrying a grocery bag. She set out pita bread, a bottle of Welch's Grape Juice, and tiny Dixie cups. She read to us the story of the Last Supper. She wanted to act it out with us. She took out a basket filled with 12 slips of paper so we could each choose an Apostle to be. We passed the basket around. I chose and opened my slip nervously.
Several of my classmates snickered. Even with our limited understanding, we all knew I had made an unlucky draw. Still, it was just play-acting, after all. We pulled our desks into a circle and Mrs. Anderson handed out the tiny cups of grape juice. Perhaps she said a prayer as she broke the bread and began to hand pieces of it to us one by one. My turn came. She held out a piece of bread to me and said: "I love you, Judas."
That's when it happened. I saw her with new eyes, and saw that she was beautiful. I could see the light radiating from her heart. It was no hallucination. I was too young for that. Besides, she appeared no different. Same body, same complexion, same hair: she was the same. I was different. For just a minute, I saw her with the eyes of my Lord and saw that she was beautiful.
I walked home a different person that day. Something in my heart had changed forever. If it sounds unreal, perhaps it is. It is more real than reality - it is truth. I saw it and it was true. She was beautiful. Perhaps not by any worldly measure, but by the only measure that has any meaning.
If I expected some grand welcome from the Heavens on the day of my First Communion, I did not get one. The day passed in the usual way. That is all right. The Lord gave me what I needed and more in His own way. Why, I do not know. I suppose He wanted to give me something to cling to during my wanderings, a lamp to light the way. Just a glimpse, perhaps, but more than enough.
You believe, Thomas, because you have seen. Blessed are they who have not seen yet still believe. I cannot read this line without a sense of great humility. She was beautiful. I saw it and it was true. I believe because I have seen. Blessed are they who have not seen yet still believe.