AN INCREDIBLE STORY…
“Great is His mercy, infinite His love!”
My first visit to New York was in the 1970’s. I stayed in Greenwich Village, at the home of a Bostonian friend. He was a former student at La Sorbonne, who married a Polish Jew from Manhattan. We went to the Metropolitan Museum, and, after a long visit,we saw that we had still a little time to visit another exhibition before leaving for a next appointment. My friends let me choose between: Egyptian antiquities, African art, or European silver. I chose the latter. Once in the room, I stopped, astounded. “Dominique ! What’s the matter?” my friends enquired, as I gazed, incredulous, in front of several items. On display, there before my very eyes, was a ewer that had stood on our family table, for many generations! How could that piece now be in the Met?
God knows us. Our names are engraved in the palms of His hands.
For years I had felt a great curiosity for History. I enjoyed perusing the family archives at my grandparent’s old home. I could spend hours relishing in the nice smell of old scrolls and reading the fine handwriting of long dead ancestors. Yet, in the midst of my fascinating research, I would sometimes perceive the insinuating voice of the Accuser (Book of revelations 11) who was murmuring to the ears of my conscience “What are you wasting your precious time for ? So many urgent and serious tasks are at stake in to-days’s world ! Futile things are not for you!”
For years also, I had been sensitive to the charm of ordinary things and old homes,to the natural harmony of antique furniture, of trees, flowers, and animals. I marveled at the human genius in all kinds of works of art, and I was thankful to God while eating our meals out of spoons and forks which had been worn and polished by the mouths of many ancestors,whose names and signatures we could read in old parchments. Yet, in the midst of my pleasure I could hear again the hissing reproach from the Accuser “Woe to the rich! Are you not ashamed to keep those wordly goods? You should have sold them and given the money to the poor!”
When I met with our ewer in the Met, I suddenly felt like I was embraced in the mercy of the Lord. For, in the silver flank of the pot, how many faces had been mirrored? Untouched by time, my people seemed to cheer joyfully at me, as I stood mesmerized in front of such an unexpected reflection which I perceived as a real image of ” the communion of saints!” Hi! Here we are, all of us, whom you tried to imagine, as you were reading our names! Here we are, in the eternal Presence!”
The ewer had been in use at every meal in the successive homes: my mother remembered vividly a dew like drop of water leaking out of the old vessel. My great-grandmother recalled her father having his hot water for shaving brought to him every morning. And I could hear the benevolent figure of 1850, with the large white beard in the old photographies, chuckling to his butler “Ah, this pot at least, they will not break, like the china ones!”
The object now on display in the Museum, was not only a breathtaking “coincidence” for me. It was (and still remains) a real touch of God’s incredible tenderness for each one of us, according to his/her personal history. A tenderness that brushes away the accusations in one instant! Instead, the Lord was showering on me, as a blessing, the very fruit of my lengthy deciphering of the faded inks in the old archives. God was pleased to note that my research had proved “good”. No shade of guilt was ever to weigh on my soul any more. I enjoyed fully the freedom of “the King’s son”. Only God, only He, who knows us by His sacred Heart, could have made such an improbable encounter happen!
No one in our family ever knew where the object had gone. Mother, uncles and aunts only remembered that their grandmother had eventually yielded to the repeated propositions from an antique dealer, and let the ewer go, at a high price, plus a replica, in modern silver, of the old work of art. The Director of the Metropolitan Museum – when I met her years later – could only confirm that the precious piece had been purchased in Europe before World War II, on behalf of an American millionaire, who later bequeathed it to the Museum. “You are, Sir,” added the Director, “the first living person I know who can boast a direct connection with one of our most valuable objects in the Metropolitan silver collection!”
Once back home, I rushed to our modern copy! I wanted to make sure that the engraved coats of arms were the ones I had studied, in order to establish the successive homes in which the ewer had been used. The four shields proved to be the ones I saw in New York. It was no coincidence. Only our Father, who created us different (none of my siblings had been interested in history, would have ever recognized the thing, had they visited the Met) could imagine such a confounding chain of “coincidences”, to assure me of His constant presence in our lives and of His boundless Mercy!
“Great is His mercy, infinite His love!”