Yulan, N.Y. — A family member, I think one of James Joseph Hanson’s sisters, held up six-month-old baby Lucas for all the packed church to see. They were, as it happens, right in front of the Baby Jesus in the crèche on the altar, still on display, for Christmas season. The church, St. Anthony of Padua, was poinsettia-filled, with strings of Christmas lights. This was in New York State, deep in the redder part that we tend not to hear about as much. (During the course of the day, an assemblywoman talked about the upcoming feast of the Epiphany in relation to Hanson’s life; such observations, drawing on the Church calendar, would be less common downstate.) Lucas was testimony to faith and endurance and love. More than three years ago, J. J. Hanson was given a diagnosis of four months to live. Lucas is living testimony to why you don’t give up even when experts say it’s over. It’s not over, Hanson might say, until God says its time.
I put those words into his mouth after hearing his parish priest recall his experience of J. J.. In his early days at St. Anthony, he explained, J. J., who was 35 when he died just days after attending Christmas Eve Mass, would drive himself to church, sometimes with his family. Then he would be in church walking with a cane. Eventually he would be in a wheelchair, letting himself be taken care of by family and friends. “As his body deteriorated, his spirit never did.” He found strength in his faith and in love.
And even if you don’t believe in God, this baby is such love. And there was something so remarkable about the people who packed the overflowing church. (Many participated in the Mass of Christian Burial from the parish hall, across the street.) The cyclone-snow-bomb storm (the term appears to be meteorology’s rhetorical battle with politics, for attention) was hitting in earnest, and yet people didn’t stay home. They came from California, Florida, D.C., and other places outside the Empire State.
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