Just before sunrise, the birds begin to sing, awakening the Ziolek couple for another day of prayer and work. The fields of this dedicated Polish farming family promise an excellent crop!
As the first rays of sun begin to illuminate the little house, Stanislaus and Veronica wake up the children. Michalina and Justyna, the older girls, dress quickly and help their mother prepare breakfast; Anika, twelve, and Stefan, ten, help their father to finish loading the cart that will carry the harvested vegetables to the nearby village for sale. After breakfast, they all pray the Rosary together, beseeching the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Following morning prayers, Stanislaus climbs onto the cart with his young son and they head for the market. They will spend the whole day there, returning only when the evening Angelus bell rings.
Back at the produce farm, Veronica and her daughters tend to the plantations with energy and diligence. Anika often helps her mother to prune and trim the rows of plants and pull weeds, while Justyna and Michalina perform their favourite task of watering the crop by riding a high seesaw that pumps water from the well to irrigate the fields.
Although everyone is busy with their farm chores, a constant worry pulls at their souls due to the sorely felt absence of the eldest boy of the family, Maximilian. It has been a year now since the war called him away to defend his homeland, and Mr. and Mrs. Ziolek have anxiously tried to find out how he is faring, for they have never received word. “How is his health? Has he been wounded or injured? Is he suffering cold and hunger? When will he come home? Why has he not written?” These are some of the countless questions that daily haunt the Zioleks.
Despite this affliction, the family never neglects the fulfilment of their duties. They carry on resolutely, trusting that Our Lady will continually protect Maximilian.
At the end of a hard day’s labour, everyone heads home for the final meal, in which even the smallest happening is fuel for conversation. Little Stefan tells his mother and sisters about the sale of the produce; Justyna and Michalina tell their father about the good progress of the crops, thanks to the favourable weather of that time of the year. Everyone talks and eats heartily – everyone except Anika…
For a few days now, her parents have noticed their youngest daughter behaving differently. At supper she takes a large portion of food and only eat a little of it. When her mother asks her why she doesn’t finish, the girl only replies that she is satisfied. And once the family has prayed grace, after the meal, she quickly and quietly carries the plate to her room.
This night is no different; off goes Anika with her plate of food.
“Why does she do that?” asks Michalina.
“Maybe she wants to eat it in the middle of the night,” Stefan suggests.
“No, there must be some good reason for this peculiar behaviour,” said Justyna thoughtfully.
So what is it that Anika really does every night?
The pious and innocent child has set up a little altar in her room with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a Guardian Angel picture. Every night, after eating her part of the serving, she takes the remainder to her “oratory” and places it at Our Lady’s feet with this prayer: “Dear Heavenly Mother, we learned in catechism that your Divine Son, my God, has given all of us an angelic protector, to watch over our body and soul. Dear Lady, you are the only one who knows how Max is doing in the war… I’m worried that he might not have enough to eat. So, I beg you: send my Guardian Angel to take this meal to Max in the army camp and, above all, take care of his soul! And, my faithful Angel friend, bring Max my prayers and affection – and a big hug, too! Amen!”
After making her supplication, Anika climbs into bed and sleeps peacefully, certain that her heavenly guardian unfailingly delivers the food to Maximilian.
Autumn comes and reaches its peak, but no letter reaches the Zioleks. The last produce is harvested and, while Stanislaus spends his days stockpiling firewood and procuring other provisions, Veronica and her daughters apply themselves to canning, preserving and cold-storing a variety of vegetables.
One day at mid-morning, they hear his cart pulling rapidly up to the house.
“Stanislaus, at this hour and in such a hurry? Has something happened?” his wife asks herself.
There could only be one reason. After long and distressing wait, they have finally received a letter from Maximilian!
Mr. Ziolek rushes inside, calling and waving the envelope with glee. In the blink of an eye, everyone is gathered around him to hear what the firstborn has written:
“My beloved parents and siblings, you have no idea how much supernatural protection I have been receiving, especially at this difficult time! The fighting is hard and dangers are greater every day; however, in all these difficulties, I can feel your prayers obtaining God’s protection for me. I was wounded in the first few months of combat, but was soon able to return to the battleground. I continue to pray the Rosary, as we always did as a family, asking Our Lady to safeguard my soul.
“As for material needs, I seem to be receiving help directly from Heaven: every day a distinguished, tall and shining young man delivers me a delicious meal. The amazing thing is that the food tastes just like Mother’s! I have asked him repeatedly where he is from and why he treats me with such kindness, but he just smiles and offers no reply. Then he leaves without a trace. I think he must be an Angel…”
The six are delighted to hear the rest of Maximilian’s adventures and each line they read affects them deeply. But nothing impresses them more than his description of the young man delivering his supper. When they finish the letter, a sense of mystery hangs in the air as they wonder who that personage might be. Everyone exchanges confused looks – everyone except Anika. Humbly and with a serene face, she inwardly thanks her Guardian Angel for carrying out her request. By this means, she has managed to assist her brother in his glorious battles. ◊