From the first instant I saw her I knew, “She’s the one.” She was Catholic and I was Jewish. We both assumed we would have children so we spent a lot of time discussing what decisions we would make. We both were committed to a lifelong marriage, so if there were any irreconcilable issues we needed to know before the wedding. Thanks be to God we arrived at agreement on every issue, and after three years we were married in a Catholic parish church.
A few weeks before I married Irene, I resolved that I would tell her I love her one million times. Some time after that I did the arithmetic. Over a 50 year marriage that would come to about 55 I love you’s a day. Obviously I couldn’t keep track of the numbers myself, so I asked the Lord to keep track for me, and to keep her with me until I had completed them. As the years passed I came up with hundreds of different ways to tell her, including some private signals so that I could tell her even in church or at a social gathering.
When God first called me from Judaism into the Catholic Church, I asked her whether there was some sort of question-and-answer book that would explain what the Church teaches. Within less than 24 hours, I found a Baltimore Catechism near my favorite reading chair. After I had read it again and again I asked her whether there was a more comprehensive book that explained the Church. Again within less than 24 hours she had put a copy of Father Hardon’s The Catholic Catechism beside my reading chair (this was in 1986; the CCC first edition was published in English in 1994). Now that copy has Father Hardon’s autograph.
She had lived an extraordinary life, always very peaceful and serene. But in the rare instances when my life or health were at some peril, she fought and prayed tenaciously to protect me. I learned to pay attention when she urged me to do things that would benefit my health, and my soul. At the same time, she was fun to be with. Whenever any of our friends came into the room where she was, she would give him a bright smile. But when I came in she gave me an even brighter smile. I often said, “Oh, I love that smile!” And she would reply, “That one’s only for you!”
My beautiful Irene had a lively career.
From New York to Yuma
In New York City, Irene was writing insurance exams for advanced degree programs in life and health insurance. When I got a job offer with the federal government in Yuma, Arizona, I told her, “You need to tell your supervisor tomorrow that you have to quit.” She said, “He’s not going to be happy.” I said, “Better him than me.” The next day she walked into his office and closed the door. Her supervisor said, “That important?” She said, “Yes, I have to give you two weeks notice. My husband got a job in Yuma, Arizona, and I have to go with him.” Her supervisor immediately replied, “Would you be interested in a divorce?” She knew he was kidding, but she also knew that if she’d expressed the slightest interest the company would have paid for it. “No,” she said, “he’s taking me with him.” Her supervisor thought a moment and said, “Wait a minute. No, I don’t have to accept your resignation. You can work for us from there.” Thinking it through as he was talking, he said, “You write exams for us. You need the knowledge, you already have that. You’ll need the textbooks. Whenever we introduce a new text we can ship a copy to you. All our secretaries can easily read your handwriting so you won’t need to type your exams, we can handle that here. But you’re always neat. If you prefer to type them, Marty has a typewriter. You can add the typing hours to your exam hours and we’ll just send you check for the hourly rate times the number of hours.” She called me up to ask what I thought of it. They were offering New York pay for Yuma-based work, and she liked writing the exams. I told her to go for it. It worked out well. She worked at her job while I worked at mine.
From Yuma to Los Angeles
After a time I got a promotion to the Los Angeles area, so we moved there. Irene simply took her exam writing with her.
From Los Angeles to Washington DC
In the Los Angeles area, when we bought our new house in Huntington Beach, the bank refused to recognize her income for the mortgage. They explained that if it were an ordinary job they would have counted it, but they considered it unstable because if the New York company wanted to fire her they would need no due process. All they had to do was stop sending her work. This was true. Her job was actually very secure, but we had no way to persuade the bank that the company in New York would do anything in its power to keep her. We decided that she would get a federal job, because it would be secure and the benefits were good. She got a job with the Army Corps of Engineers writing environmental impact statements.
As time passed, my career continued upward. I got a job in Washington, DC. Again I told her that we would have to move. The Corps held her in such high regard that they created a position for her at their headquarters so they could keep her with the agency, but because the Washington DC supervisor had never met her, he wanted an interview. When we arrived in Washington DC she called up her new prospective supervisor. He scheduled the appointment but also told her, “You have to stop all these people from calling me up. They’re not helping you.” Startled, she asked what was going on. He told her, “Everybody from the Corps in Los Angeles is calling me up and advising me to make sure and hire you because you’re outstanding. Nobody is that good.” She went in for the interview, and of course she was hired. At the end of her first year, her supervisor called her in for the annual performance appraisal and said, “Last year, when I said nobody could be that good and you’d inevitably fall short, I was wrong. You’ve actually exceeded what they said about you. Congratulations!
The Move to Treasury
The Corps loved Irene, but her position had limited promotion opportunity. I had been working for U.S. Customs, and saw a vacancy announcement there with much better career potential. Irene put in for it and got it. She worked in Customs’ international area, negotiating international treaties relating to Customs administration. At that time Customs was under the Treasury Department. After a time, Main Treasury wanted her, and got her. Irene worked for the Treasury Department for the rest of her career, where she continued to negotiate international treaties and agreements.
At that time, there was a special award called the Quality Step Increase (QSI). Because it resulted in a permanent salary increase of about 3 percent, it was awarded only rarely, for the very highest performance. She always got Outstanding performance ratings, but for a period of several years under several different supervisors Irene earned a QSI as part of her performance appraisal every year. She also represented the United States in negotiating the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, by which 106 of the world’s 195 nations work together to interdict illicit narcotics traffic. For that one she got an award personally given to her by the Secretary of the Treasury, who of course works directly for the President of the United States. It’s still on display in my home, in the room that had been her office.
The 106 countries were Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’lvoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, German Democratic Republic, Germany, Federal Republic of, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire.
God saved her life on that occasion. The United Nations Conference for the Adoption of a Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances met at the Neue Hofburg in Vienna from November 25 to December 20, 1988. The conference was originally scheduled to end on December 21, 1988, so Irene had a reservation that evening from London to JFK Airport in New York on Pan Am Flight 103. However, the conference work was completed a day earlier than expected. After all that time Irene was eager to get back home to me, so she re-scheduled her departure to the same Pan Am Flight 103 on December 20, 1988.
I will remember forever the next evening. We were watching the news on TV when suddenly they announced that Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland. She turned to me and said, “I was scheduled to be on that plane!” Her love for me had saved her life!
The next morning she flew up to attend the signing ceremony at the United Nations in New York City on December 22, 1988. Many people who should have been at the ceremony were not there.
The Miraculous Medal
On one occasion Irene was talking with a priest at our parish when she noticed that he was wearing a Miraculous Medal. He had a special devotion to it and told her that the Blessed Virgin had appeared to St. Catherine Labouré at what is now the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at 140 rue du Bac in Paris and asked her to have a Miraculous Medal made and distributed. St. Catherine did as the Blessed Virgin had asked and the Miraculous Medal is now widely known and treasured among Catholics.
The priest said a friend had sent him the one he was wearing directly from the Chapel, and he wished he could go there to buy more. Irene told him that her career negotiating international treaties and agreements often took her to Paris, and that during her next trip there she would be happy to take a taxi to the Chapelle to buy him some more medals.
Once there, Irene herself heard about how many healings were associated with the Miraculous Medal and decided to buy ten for the priest and ten she would distribute to friends who needed heaven’s special help. Of course she wanted me to wear one, and I was happy to do so. After that, every time she traveled to Paris she went to the Chapelleon rue du Bac to buy more medals and, after each purchase, had them all blessed by a priest there in the Chapelle. She had many pictures of the Chapelle and would eagerly show them to anyone who expressed interest all about it, pointing especially to where St. Catherine Labouré‘s body remains perfectly incorrupt in a glass reliquary, still as it was when God called the saint to heaven, in the sanctuary, on the right side, under the altar of the Virgin of the Globe. During every visit to the Chapelle she would spend some time with the saint before walking around the rest of it and purchasing more medals. Over time, Irene heard more and more stories from friends about how the Blessed Virgin had healed and helped the friends to whom she had given a Miraculous Medal. Whenever a friend told her of a serious difficulty, Irene would offer a Miraculous Medal. She bought more and more each time, and I happily began calling her the Miraculous Medal Lady.
The Medal was important to me as a Hebrew Catholic because, back in the nineteenth century, a wealthy Jewish banker-lawyer named Alphonse Ratisbonne had been speaking strongly against the Catholic Church. A Catholic friend, the Baron Theodore de Bussières, challenged Alphonse: If he would wear a Miraculous Medal and pray the Memorare each day for thirty days, and remain unaffected, the friend would stop entreating him to join the Church. Alphonse was of course certain that this medal and prayer could have no effect on him so, to silence his friend once and for all, he took up the challenge. During that time, as he visited a church to arrange a funeral for a friend, he saw a vision of Our Lady as she appears on the Medal. He instantly converted and soon afterward became a Jesuit priest. Our Lady of the Miracle of Alphonse Ratisbonne’s conversion is a patron saint of the Association of Hebrew Catholics.
As Irene’s retirement approached, she had one more Paris trip, and we realized that it would be her final visit to the Chapelle. She asked me how many medals she should buy for a lifetime supply. I gave her money for two hundred medals. With that great number we were concerned that US Customs might think it was a commercial shipment and we would have to meet the complicated commercial shipping requirements. However, the Blessed Virgin was with Irene, and Customs let the medals pass with her explanation that they were all to be gifts for friends.
By our early 50s, Irene and I both had a clear sense that God was calling us to leave the federal government and move to rural Arkansas where we would work full time for him in a small but intensely Catholic community. Obviously, we needed our pensions. The Clinton Administration was offering early outs to most agencies, which meant we could retire early on pensions that were much reduced but would start immediately. My agency was part of the downsizing and I met the criteria, so I took the early out. Irene’s organization at Treasury, however, was growing and didn’t want to lose her. We asked the Lord in prayer for help. As it happened, Irene’s office was the only one in Treasury that had arranged for Customs to handle its personnel affairs. Customs had been directed by the White House to run the early out program in every organization its personnel office served, and if an employee wanted an early out the agency management couldn’t say no. The Lord had it all worked out. We moved to Arkansas.
At the time we moved to Arkansas Irene’s mother was living in Florida. Each year we traveled back to New York and Philadelphia to spend Christmas with Irene’s family. She and I also made a separate trip each year to Florida where Irene’s mother lived in a condominium complex. Mom was very happy that, even past her 80th year, she could still live by herself in Florida.
At the time, Father Hardon was based in the Detroit area. He had been my mentor since Irene and I were still living in Northern Virginia, and so we continued to drive to Detroit whenever we could to be with him. At his direction, we got started on our work for the Lord. I worked on my book Second Exodus, got it published and began work on Eternal Israel. Father had given Irene two apostolates, the Precious Life Center, which vigorously opposed euthanasia, and the Christian Policy Center, which took advantage of her Washington government knowledge to advocate positions supportive of Catholic teaching. I authored a major web site for my Second Exodus Apostolate and a smaller site for each of her apostolates, putting in whatever she asked me for.
By 2002, at 83, Irene’s Mom finally realized that she could no longer live alone. We invited her to choose which of her three children she wanted to live near. She chose Irene, and we helped her move to a home near us. It soon became clear that she would really need someone living with her to help out, so one of Irene’s two brothers moved in with Mom. Irene went over there nearly every day, and ended up running both households, Mom’s and ours. Her brother did his part when Irene was with me.
It soon became clear that Irene no longer had time available for the Christian Policy Center, so she ended it. She tried to keep the Precious Life Center going, with its advocacy of pro-life advance health care directives and durable powers of attorney for health care. Then the Terry Schiavo affair captured nationwide headlines day after day, generating maybe ten thousand times the publicity that Irene’s apostolate could. As Irene’s responsibilities taking care of both Mom and me increased she finally had to shut it down as well. I continued my work on Eternal Israel.
The End Comes Into View
The most important part of our life is always the place at which our earthly journey ends and we are born into eternal life.
In 2009 we learned that Irene had a particularly virulent cancer. I immediately made arrangements for her to be treated at Siteman Cancer Center, part of Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Siteman is among the world’s best cancer centers. It was 250 miles each way from our home, but I believed that with such a virulent strain we had to be right the first time.
After a time Irene began to sense that God was calling her home. She asked me whether we could drop the treatments and let her spend her last months peacefully. I told her that I had to fight. If we fought it all the way and she was still called home, then it would be God’s will and I could be serene. But if we stopped then, while Siteman was still offering treatments they believed would put the cancer into remission, I was concerned that every time I looked into a mirror I would think, “I could have saved her life, and I said no.” She understood. We fought together.
At one point, in 2010, I had major physical difficulties and had to be hospitalized in Arkansas for five months. At the same time, Irene was in Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, also for an extended time. I had bought a pair of iPhones for us so we could continue to be in contact and take care of basic family affairs. But the main thing that kept us going was God’s grace. He has given Irene and me friends who looked after us as a team. At one point I got out of my hospital while Irene was still in hers, but I needed someone to take care of me 24 hours a day. Our women friends were all married, I couldn’t ask them to stay overnight with me. Thanks be to God, my sister flew out from Maryland to be with me for a few weeks and get me through that part. Soon after she went home, I ended up back in the hospital. By the time I came out again Irene was home, but too weak to take care of me. This time they put me in a rehab center right near where we live. Irene visited me several days a week until I was able to go home.
Soon after that, Siteman told us that they had run out of options. There was nothing further they could do. I then proceeded to give Irene some highly recommended natural remedies, but they didn’t work either. Finally she asked again whether we could stop the fight and let her live her last months in peace. This time I said yes. I saw nothing on the horizon, either medically or naturally, by which we could save her life. She was very grateful.
As my beautiful Irene’s strength declined, she prayed more and more often. All three of the priests in our area wanted to give her the Last Rites, including the Apostolic Pardon. Two of them eventually did. She was always the caregiver in our family. I had never learned how, but God gave me strength I didn’t know I had. It was the one time, other than while I was in the hospital, that I had to stop work on my apostolate. The Cardinal who mentors me and two holy priest friends all told me that God wanted me to stop the apostolic work and concentrate entirely on caring for Irene both physically and spiritually. The Cardinal pointed out, “Your apostolate can restart later. You’re all Irene has now. Jesus wants you with her.” On June 29, 2011, a priest here blessed Irene with a relic of the True Cross.
As she got weaker and weaker, I was struggling more and more to take care of her. Finally, just when I was becoming very concerned that I no longer had the strength to provide all that was needed, a home health nurse came to evaluate her. The nurse, shocked at how weak she had become, told us that Irene had to be taken to the hospital immediately. Our doctor was on vacation that week, so he was not available to authorize an ambulance. I asked a retired nurse friend to come over. The two nurses managed to get her into the retired nurse’s car, and she drove us to the hospital’s emergency room, where Irene was sent straight to an intensive care unit.
For the next five days I came to visit her in the hospital. I wasn’t strong enough to drive that distance under stress, so each day a different friend drove me. I also brought in a crucifix from our home for her to hold, but just as I was taking it out of my pocket the woman who drove me that day took out an identical crucifix and told Irene, “I want to give this to you.” I knew it was something she wanted very much to do, so I quickly put our crucifix back in my pocket.
Each day I thought, and the intensive care nurses thought, that it would be her last. The hospital Irene and I used is right next to a Catholic parish church, so Irene was able to receive Holy Communion every day, and the Last Rites, including the Apostolic Pardon, twice, on two successive days. One would have sufficed, but I was determined to do everything in my power to help her reach heaven, and so when the second priest started to give her the Last Rites, I remained quiet and let him proceed. No man knows the day or the hour, but the presence of a priest can make all the difference. That’s why I will always use a Catholic hospital or one served by a Catholic parish church.
The Last Day
During Irene’s last day, Sunday, several times she indicated that she was in pain. By that time Irene could only speak in a voice so soft that I could barely hear her with my good ear right over her face. I asked her, “Are you in pain, my love?” She nodded her head yes. The day nurse was giving Irene all the pain medicine she could. Each time the day nurse explained that she couldn’t give any more just yet, I encouraged Irene, “Offer it up, my love.”
Several times she just looked at me and said, “Marty!” Only the one word, but the haunting sound of her voice said, “I love you so much my darling,” and “Goodbye.” I told her gently that I have always loved her and always will, and I also said, “Goodbye my love,” and told her that I was ready for her to go. I left her at about 6:00 pm for the two hour drive home.
About 7:30 pm the night nurse came in to ask Irene whether she wanted some pain medicine. Irene’s eyes opened and she said, “My Christ suffered so much on the cross for me, the least I can do is suffer this little bit for him.” The nurse observed a very soft heavenly glow coming from Irene’s body and sensed an odor of sanctity in the room. She turned off the light to give Irene peace.
About 8:00 pm, holding a crucifix to her heart, Irene passed into eternity, with the soft heavenly glow still around her body and the odor of sanctity in the room. The nurse phoned me immediately. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.
I immediately called Ken James, a parishioner and friend who worked in our preferred funeral home. He left soon afterward and arrived at the hospital at about 11:00 pm. When he entered Irene’s dark room (the light was still turned off), he immediately observed the very soft heavenly glow about her body and sensed the odor of sanctity. The night nurse was sitting next to Irene’s bed with her back to the doorway, looking at Irene’s body and holding her hand. She didn’t see Ken when he entered. When he made a sound the nurse turned to him and asked, “Are you a Catholic? I have to tell someone!” Ken said yes, he is a Catholic, so she told him that Irene’s soft glow and odor of sanctity had begun a half hour before her passage and was still there. Ken told me that he’d been in the funeral business for 40 years and this was the first time he’d ever seen that. He told me with great conviction that he was absolutely certain she’s in heaven.
When I heard this I was of course extremely happy. All my Catholic life my single most important objective was helping my beautiful Irene reach heaven. I’m confident she would have made it even without my efforts, but I knew I could rest peacefully only if I had done everything I could. I will continue to offer Masses for her as well as for me for the rest of my life, and will leave money for our parish to continue the Masses for many years after Rabbi Yeshua calls me home.
Father Hardon was my primary mentor in the Catholic faith. His main secretary was Susan Schoenstein. Among Father’s inner circle of disciples, Susan was always the most closely identified with him. I sensed that Father Hardon had interceded to give Irene the heavenly glow and odor of sanctity as a sign to comfort me, but had no way to be sure. But that same evening Susan had been praying for Irene when she suddenly, involuntarily, said, “In this hour take her home, St. Joseph.” Startled, she immediately e-mailed to ask me whether I knew anything about it. She said it had occurred at about 9:00 pm (8:00 pm Central Time). The next morning, when I saw her message, I told her that was exactly when Irene had passed into eternity. Susan and I both realized it was Father Hardon’s way of letting us know that he had asked our Lord not only for the soft heavenly glow and odor of sanctity but also for St. Joseph himself, patron saint of the dying, to personally take her home.
I’ve known Ken James for a long time. He’s as rock solid as they come. But, all the same, the next evening I called up the night nurse who had been caring for Irene, and she told me every detail. But she preferred that I not mention her name when telling anyone about her experience, so I never will.
An old commercial always promised, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
In our bedroom, Irene and I had two bedside lamps. We nearly always used the ceiling lights because they were more convenient, but once in a while, before we went to bed, I would turn on the lamps at their low setting because they gave a very soft welcoming light. It was one of the many ways I liked to tell Irene, “I love you.”
After Irene was born into eternal life I never again turned on those lamps, but every few months I would walk into our bedroom to get ready for bed and notice that the lamp on my side of the bed was on! I knew I hadn’t turned it on, and no one else was in the house. Then it dawned on me, when she was still with me I liked to turn on both lamps. Lighting the one on my side is exactly what Irene would do to signal, “I love you.”
After that, several times each year, I would walk into the bedroom and find one lamp on. Always one, never both, and always on my side. Then, at one point I began to wonder whether it was just something mechanical about that lamp. Shortly after that the one on her side went on. Then I knew for sure. My beautiful Irene had been turning them on.
Each time she turned the light on, I turned it off before getting into bed. Then, the evening she turned on the other lamp, I began to wonder whether she would turn it off when I got into bed. So I didn’t touch that lamp for three days. The light stayed on 24 hours a day. Then I understood that message. “I’ll never stop loving you.”
Some evenings, as Irene and I went to bed in our home, there would be a thunderstorm, a blizzard, or some other wild weather outside. At these times I liked to say a silent prayer of thanks to Rabbi Yeshua, and then turn to Irene and comfort her by saying, “My love, I’m so happy because you’re all protected and safe.” She was never particularly concerned about the weather, but she liked to reply with a smile, “We’re protected and safe.” And I would say, “I know, my love, but it particularly pleases me that you’re protected and safe.” And we would sleep peacefully.
As the persecution grows closer, I’m deeply grateful that in Rabbi Yeshua’s eternal home she’s absolutely protected and safe. With his grace I will bear whatever storms are ahead for me as best I can, striving always to reflect his glory back to him and to all around me. But my beautiful Irene will be all protected and safe, and I know she is interceding for me. When at last he calls me home, the first thing I’ll do, after I thank Rabbi Yeshua and Blessed Mother, is look for my beautiful Irene and see whether I can spend all eternity with her.
The Catechism comforts us.
§ 956 “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.”
§ 1020 The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life. When the Church for the last time speaks Christ’s words of pardon and absolution over the dying Christian, seals him for the last time with a strengthening anointing, and gives him Christ in viaticum as nourishment for the journey, she speaks with gentle assurance:
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the angels and saints….
May you return to [your Creator]
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life….
May you see your Redeemer face to face.
Laus tibi Dómine, Rex ætérnæ glóriæ