30 years, 30 days, 30 stories.
On March 23rd, I will cross a big threshold, 30 years old. It has occurred to me lately that all of our stories are ultimately, if we pay enough attention, stories that are ultimately stories of grace. Over the course of the next thirty days, I want to share 30 of those stories with you.
Our Lady of the Way, Who has Always Watched My Way. Day 1 of 30.
In the beginning, for me, there were six simple words which have ever since shaped my life: "Let her bring it with her," but in fact those word were more something like "let it be." These are words the power of which I am not sure that I would ever fully realize the significance of for me until just now, "Let her bring it with her." The reality is that these thirty years that I am grateful for almost didn't happen.
|The Madonna Della Strada|
My Father, one day during his lunch break from work, went to the Catholic bookstore in downtown Hartford and bought a small plastic resin statue of Mary holding Jesus and put it by my mother's bed. This is a beige statue, no more than 6 inches tall that still stands in my parent's bedroom. Mary's veil is smooth, and she cradles Jesus in her arms. So when my mother was on bed rest, she would pray in front of this simple statue of Mary which stood on her night stand, and when she went to Hartford Hospital for the last days of her pregnancy, the statue came with her.
Some time early on the morning of March 23rd, 1981, my mother had a stroke. There was a code blue in the maternity ward, and rather than being taken to the delivery room, my mother was taken to the operating room. As they were taking her out of her hospital room she reached out with her good hand to grab the statue, which stood there by her bed. The nurses said "no you can't take it" but my mother clung fast to it. She had prayed. She was convinced that the Blessed Mother would hear her. Even now when her life was in danger, when she could have lost her first child, and when everything seemed at its darkest, she clung to fast to her faith, and the belief that with Mary's intercession, God couldn't refuse her what she had asked for.
It was at that moment, above the nurses objections, Dr. Stavola, her doctor, said "Let her bring it with her." Let it be... at 8:03 that morning I was born. Thirty years later my mother is still alive, still doing well, and much to the chagrin of some, she still has the gift of fortitude that allows her to stick with things through tough times, and the grace to not give up. If the story ended here, it would be a great story, but later in life, that day came to have even more meaning.
When I was young I asked my mother about that statue, because from a young age I knew how important it was to her. She told me "That is Our Lady of the Way." Whether I knew it or not, from the very beginning of my life Our Lady of the Way has been interceding for me, pushing me along, and now I live in the same building in which the ancient Icon of Our Lady of the Way is housed.
When St. Ignatius came to Rome in 1540 Pope Paul III gave him the chapel of Our Lady of the Way and from that point on, the Society of Jesus has held her as our patroness. My mother had no idea about this, she didn't really know the devotion all that well in fact. All that she did know was that she had a statue that she was told was Our Lady of the Way. That statue was always around in my house growing up, and at two other key moments in my life, it was the intercession of Mary that guided me.
|The Church of the Gesù. Where the Icon is housed|
and where I live.
When I was at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City after my junior year of college, praying in front of the tilma of Juan Diego, I had a deep interior sense that all of the things in my life were leading me to this life, and a little under a year later I was accepted into the novitiate. There was a moment as well when I thought of packing it in and giving up on being a Jesuit, and then it was listening patiently to the words of Mary in the gospel of Luke having the courage to say "fiat," Let it be done to me according to your will, Let it be, that I knew I couldn't do anything other than be who I am today. Years later, finally reaching the near end of this path of formation to priesthood I have come here, finally, to the Church of the Gesù to the Altar of the Madonna Della Strada, and finally with peace I can say back to the Lord along with Mary, let it be done to me according to your will.Our histories are graced histories, if we pay enough attention to see where God has been moving. From my first moment there is a sense in which Our Lady of the Way has been watching out for me. I like to tell my mother that she has only herself to blame for me being a Jesuit, though in fact she is proud of me. The truth is, though, that reflecting on stories like these make me realize that from my first moments, providence has conspired for me, and not against me. Our Lady has watched me and prayed for me, and somehow I have been given just enough grace to realize it and be grateful.