Note: The women’s names in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.
I stopped in church for a visit, intending to spend some time in the Presence of our Lord, to pray the Rosary and recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Midway through my recitation of the Rosary, a woman came in quietly and almost unnoticeably. She sat in the very last pew, knelt down, and pulled out her Rosary beads. I did not know who she was.
We were just two simple souls drawn to the silent sacredness that palpably fills this holy place.
Shortly after finishing my Rosary and as I was about to begin the Divine Mercy Chaplet, another woman entered the church in tears, wailing in obvious despair. I do not think she even knew two other people were there.
She walked toward the sanctuary, entered a pew not far from the tabernacle, knelt down, and cried ever more loudly. Her heaving shoulders evidenced the depth of her sorrow and despair. Her loud, painful wailing shattered the sacred silence and penetrated the center of my heart. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please, please help this poor woman!” I remained standing in the back of the church, looking at and praying for her.
I “sensed” I should go put my hands on her shoulder and comfort her. “No,” I told myself. “I couldn’t do that. That’s not me. I would not know what to say.” The urging and prompting persisted — “Go, put your hands on her shoulder and comfort her.” I found myself walking toward her, begging God to give me the words to say. When my hand touched her shoulder, she jumped, startled that I was there. I looked into her tear-filled, painful eyes and asked if I could help her in some way. She wailed ever louder.
In between her sobs, she told me her name was Janet, that her husband of 47 years had died about four months ago, that they had actually gotten married in this parish in 1971, that she was on her way to another city and was prompted to stop in this church. She didn’t know why. Janet felt she could not go on without her husband; she wanted to die.
“Your husband wouldn’t want you to do that. He would want you to recognize in this most difficult of times how much God loves you. It was this loving, comforting, healing God who drew you here today.” Where did those words come from?
I “knew” I had to pray aloud. I don’t recall the exact words I said or how long I prayed but I prayed audibly in a manner that I have not been able to pray for some time and with a conviction that did not originate with me. Over time, the sobbing became less frequent. She held my hand. She wanted to and was able to speak.
Janet asked me if I was a priest. “No, Ma’am, I am just a parishioner here. Would you like me to see if Father is in the rectory?” I asked. “No.” She talked and I just listened.
After a short while, the other woman who had been in the rear of the church praying the Rosary joined us. We introduced ourselves and with Janet’s permission I told our new visitor what she had shared with me. There was an immediate and comforting connection Rebecca established with Janet — a few years earlier, Rebecca had been exactly where Janet was now.
I felt it was time for me to leave but before doing so, I invited Janet to stop in our adoration chapel, to gaze upon the God who loved her, exposed in a monstrance blessed by the late John Paul II the Sunday before he died and given to this small little parish in the middle of nowhere. I found myself assuring her, with a level of faith and certainty I have rarely found in my life, that I “knew” He had a special gift He wanted to give her if she would come in for a visit. Rebecca had the same conviction.
I told Janet and Rebecca I would be praying for them and asked them to pray for me.
But here is “the rest of the story.” Ordinarily, I would not have been in the church at that time of day. I usually go there in the morning. I wasn’t planning to go that day until after 3 p.m. But inexplicably I went at 1:30 p.m. instead. I later found out that Rebecca also had no specific plan to visit the church that day at that time. She too responded to a silent prompting.
Obviously Rebecca and I now realize that God wanted us to be there at that time for that woman.
What if either or both of us had ignored His promptings that day? Would Janet have stopped there? Would someone else have been there for God to use to touch this suffering soul and point her to Him? We will never know.
God does not expect “big” things from us — just our obedience and trust. We have to get out of our comfort zone!
With God’s grace I am going to be less reluctant to follow His promptings in the future.
How about you?