Neither setbacks nor side roads deter our friends behind These Stone Walls from a year of grace and mercy with Saint Faustina guided by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.
This post is a continuation of one that I wrote in these pages in April, 2019, “A Divine Mercy Pilgrimage 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina.” I am late, as often happens. I promised to continue that story months ago, but side roads kept taking me away – not from the journey itself, but only from writing about it.
The point of reference for that post and this one is 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina: A Year of Grace and Mercy by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. It matters not whether you have read it or have previously joined us in this pilgrimage to Divine Mercy. Read and ponder this post anyway for its invitation to Divine Mercy remains always open to you. This is a journey of signs and wonders grounded in the depths of Catholic spirituality, an endangered term in our age of polarized politics.
I need to begin this next chapter in my Divine Mercy pilgrimage with a story. It’s a true story but it is also sort of a parable. The word, “parable” comes from the Latin, parabola which in turn came from the more ancient Greek, paraballein, meaning “to throw next to [something].” In science, a parabolic reflector gathers and strengthens radio signals to a focal point.
A parable tells a story that gathers multiple layers of meaning to convey a spiritual lesson. It conveys a meaning far greater than the one on its surface. For a point of reference, the story I am about to tell happened just after the events of one of the most-read posts on These Stone Walls. That post was “How Father Benedict Groeschel Entered My Darkest Night.”
STRANDED IN NEW MEXICO
The year was 1993, and I was living in the village of Jemez Springs, New Mexico where, for the previous four years, I had ministered as Director of Admissions for the Servants of the Paraclete Center for priests and religious brothers. It was a time when old and untrue accusations arose against me and other priests spawned by the first waves of mediated settlements in the abuse crisis in the Church. It was a time when the ability to trust had diminished within me. I was ostracized and stranded.
It was a Friday evening in the autumn of 1993. My attorney called and asked me to meet with him at his office 90 miles away in the City of Albuquerque for an update. He scheduled the meeting for 7:30 PM and we finished at 9:00. As I left his office into the downtown streets of Albuquerque for my long drive home, the sky opened up and a torrential rain fell.
The rain was so intense that I had to pull over. When it didn’t let up, I decided to risk driving through the city with limited visibility. As I turned onto Central Avenue, where the traffic is heavy day and night, I saw a young man and woman walking in the wind and driving rain The young woman carried an infant, trying her best to shield her from the torrent. The young man carried only a hastily packed duffle bag.
A truck up ahead drove too fast through a lake in the road dousing the three of them in a deluge. All the other traffic simply passed by. I passed by too, but I did not get very far. It was like one of those cartoon scenes in which an angel perched on one shoulder hissed in my ear, “What are you doing? Pull over!” His counterpunch was perched on the other shoulder warning cunningly, “Don’t get involved! Keep driving, you fool.”
The streets were flooding as I turned the next corner, drove around the block, and pulled up again behind the young family. I unlocked the passenger door of my truck. Like many in New Mexico, I had a white Chevy Silverado pickup that could pass everything but gas stations. I rolled down the passenger side window and asked if they needed help. They stood there looking miserable but hesitant until I said, “Let’s get that baby out of this rain.” They opened the door and silently, warily, got in. Their ability to trust was as exhausted as my own.
I asked the young man – he was only 18 or 19 – why they were walking the streets in this weather at night. He said that they were living with his girlfriend’s parents who threw them out in the heat of an argument. They went to a city shelter, but the shelter was full. They went to another but were told they could not accept an infant for liability reasons. They called the police but were told that nothing could be done for them until Monday. They were cold, wet, exhausted and stranded.
I drove to an all-night diner – the famous old Frontier Restaurant on Central Avenue which never closes – and bought them a meal. Then I bought them some food, dry towels and T-shirts at an all-night grocery. Then I took them to a motel where I paid in advance for them to stay until Monday. The night clerk at the Motel desk – whose ability to trust also seemed long gone – asked me why I was doing this. I told him that I am a Catholic priest and I could not pass by. He seemed genuinely moved but still charged the full rate. The young family was very grateful. They asked for my address to pay me back.
I knew they could not, so I just asked them to take care of each other. The episode left me very late – not to mention very broke. As I again began the long drive home, this time well after midnight, I was nervously low on gas and had not a dime left to buy any. A few miles after turning onto State Route 4 beyond Bernalillo for the 22-mile drive into the Jemez Mountains, the sky opened up again for another vicious downpour. Just then, my truck sputtered to a stop. I ran out of gas.
For anyone who has ever visited the mountainous region of Northern New Mexico, there is no darkness as dark as that road on a rainy night. The darkness within me seemed to well up to meet it. You know what I mean. You have likely been there too.
THE BIGGER PICTURE OF OUR LIVES
Back in 2015, Canadian Catholic writer, Michael Brandon, wrote a post on his Freedom Through Truth blog entitled “Father Gordon MacRae, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Big Picture.” It was not exactly a title I wanted to see my name connected to, but it was a very well written and hopeful post. In it, Michael quoted the great Saint Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!”
Michael Brandon’s post is a brilliant and moving walk through the Sorrowful Mysteries to a picture of our suffering that is much bigger than suffering itself. Michael wrote:
- “We who are removed by two millennia from the actual Way of the Cross, though we celebrate it every time we participate in the Mass, have the Way of the Cross of Father Gordon to remind us that greater love has no man that he would lay down his life for his brothers and sisters.”
I am not at all worthy of that, but we are called to be for others as Simon of Cyrene was for Christ. That is our bigger picture, and it is at the heart of Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s Divine Mercy Pilgrimage in 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina. But before we look more deeply into that bigger picture, there is a little more to my story.
The rain that night did not let up. This was a time before cell phones so my choices were to sit in my truck or start walking. I started walking. I knew I was about four miles from the Jemez Pueblo where there was a pay phone on the side of the road. I walked the miserable trek in darkness through the deluge only to find the phone out of order. I saw not a single other vehicle on the pitch black road.
I was near despair as I walked a few miles further with a dozen left to go when, at 3:00 AM I saw the glow of headlights behind me. I did something I had not done since I was a teenager. I stuck out my thumb, but the headlights passed by. I walked on engulfed in darkness. Ten minutes later the same headlights returned. The car did a u-turn and pulled up behind me. Against all my better judgment, I got in.
The young man driving was about twenty years old. He was driving to visit his parents in Los Alamos after a late shift somewhere in the city. He asked me why I was on the road at 3:00 AM in a storm. So I told him that I am a Catholic priest on my way home. He responded, “I never pick up hitchhikers, but I had a strange feeling that I should make an exception so I came back.”
As we drove the next twelve miles I told him the entire story that I wrote above. He found it astonishing. As we pulled into the driveway of the Servants of the Paraclete Community House where I was living, he handed me a note pad and pen asking for my mailing address. A week later, I received a letter from him telling me that the story I told has caused him to rethink the bigger picture of his life so he has made a decision to return to the faith he left behind years ago.
The tribulations of that night were a Corporal Work of Mercy that acted as a catalyst for a Spiritual Work of Mercy. This is at the heart of Part Two of 52 Weeks with Saint Faustina, a segment entitled “Merciful Life.” It begins with a short passage from the Word of the Lord to St. Faustina:
- “I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first by deed, the second by word, the third by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy… there must always be acts of mercy because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works.” (Diary of St Faustina, 742)
DIVINE MERCY ALLIES
Donna-Marie writes of the “tremendous transforming power” of our works of mercy, but that transforming power is not only directed to the recipients of our mercy. It transforms us as well. I do not recommend picking up hitchhikers but the young man who stopped on my road to Jericho that night was also transformed by his own work of mercy. And I was transformed by the one that resulted in my being stranded on that road.
Perhaps the hardest chapter in Donna-Marie’s book is the one that precedes all this in Part II. It is Chapter 16 on Humility. She, too, quoted Saint Teresa of Avila who said that prayer, is “a close sharing between two friends.” A part of humility is coming to see God as a friend in conversation with us, “a conversation that requires of us humble hearts.” (p 115)
Too many Catholics confuse humility with humiliation. Putting ourselves down, or letting others do it, is not humility. Humility means seeing and telling the truth about ourselves before God, and then living with that truth. It means facing the good truth as well as the bad. Even a once-embittered wrongly convicted prisoner of twenty-five years can come to see and accept the Bigger Picture, the fact that God did not cause any of the evil that has befallen me, but He can use it for something good if I let Him.
To love God means that we must also come to love what God loves. This places those in need on our path in a greater light, but it places ourselves in a greater light as well. We have allies on our difficult path. Recent posts on These Stone Walls (I link to a few of them below) demonstrated just how powerful these allies remain for us. Donna Marie wrote of them:
- “Many of the saints reassured their followers that they would be working even harder in Heaven. We can strive to imitate the saints in Heaven by recalling that they were all once like us – ordinary people with blemishes and faults, prone to temptation. The difference now is that they are in Heaven because they practiced the heroic virtues. They inspire us to do the same.”
52 Weeks with Saint Faustina, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s thoughtful, prayerful guidebook through the great adventure of Divine Mercy, will continue to appear in these pages in coming months. Her upcoming segment called “Rejoicing in Suffering” may be a challenge for me, however. I am not quite there yet.
But as the Church remembers All Saints Day, we honor those who aid us with their lives and prayers reminding us of our mission to be allies for others. That isn’t quite the same as rejoicing in my suffering, but it does put it to good use. Maybe there is hope for me yet – for all of us.
But don’t pick up hitchhikers!
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A Request from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post on social media so it will find its way to someone who needs it. Please also Subscribe to These Stone Walls and like & follow it on Facebook. You may also wish to honor our Patron Saints and the souls of our loved ones this week with these related posts:
- Saint Maximilian Kolbe Led Us into the Heart of Mary
- The Last Mass of Padre Pio: ‘I Unite You with My Passion’
- Of Saints and Souls and Earthly Woes, Viva Cristo Rey!
- The Holy Longing: An All Souls Day Spark for Broken Hearts