Strolling in the early morning light along a scenic tree-lined road, I marveled at the sheer beauty of my surroundings. The deep green leaves on the majestic trees above created a canopy of shade, shielding my friend and me from the hot July sun. We walked in silence quietly pondering the many ways in which God had revealed himself to us at the beautiful Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge. In the quiet of that bright morning we prayed for the grace to be attentive to God’s voice, strengthening us for the journey beyond the beauty and peace of this tranquil place.
The outside air was sticky and warm. Arriving in Louisiana at mid-day, everything around us looked strange including the cafe’s lunch special, alligator fritters. I had taken Mom to this southeastern state – famous for its Creole and Cajun – in search of healing for terminal cancer. A speaker friend I had met during my Boston Catholic Conference days was hosting a Holy Spirit retreat featuring the Poor Clares nun Sister Briege McKenna as the main presenter. Sister Briege is well known as a mystic and faith healer and I heard an inner voice urge me to bring Mom to this beautiful event.
Mom was incredibly happy to attend the retreat and very open to the power of healing through the Holy Spirit. She had learned long ago that the Holy Spirit is a powerful teacher and healer. As a deep woman of faith, she taught me that God’s ways are sometimes mysterious to us. “We must always trust and be open to his intercession – the Holy Spirit comes in ways we may not expect. Jesus does not want us to be alone in our struggles.” she often advised.
After settling into our room and enjoying some gumbo for lunch, we attended the first session. We were quite unprepared for what happened next. After the leader opened with a prayer the participants raised their hands in praise and began singing and clapping out loud! This was all so new to Mom and me and I felt a bit uncomfortable. Sensing this, Mom turned to me with a smile. “Relax, you don’t have to raise your hands to pray but if you want to, feel free…” she said. I was so amazed at how easily Mom adapted to this new way of praying. She didn’t judge it or feel self-conscious, she just joined right in.
Looking back, I am still in awe at Mom’s flexibility and openness. Most people immediately shut down when something different is introduced to them, especially if it feels a little odd. Not Mom – she always maintained an open heart and mind, trusting that God placed her exactly where He wanted her to be. Others were attracted to her because of this. They wanted to be in her company and “have” whatever she had. What she had was simply a deep faith in the God who loves us. She trusted in His mercy. This allowed her to walk the path of love at every point in her life – especially during the moments of deep suffering.
When we arrived back in Boston after the three day retreat in Louisiana, we had much to ponder. We had met the incredible Sr. Briege and shared a meal together. Sr. Briege even prayed over Mom. But alas, there would be no miraculous physical healing. However, we left the retreat feeling peaceful and aware that God was with us. That was a gift directly from the hands of the Lord and perhaps the healing that we had flown all the way to Louisiana for. Mom had no fear, no anger and no regret. She was a woman who trusted in the love and mercy of God. Because of this, God had gifted her with extraordinary graces for the difficult journey which lay ahead.
Driving through the majestic beauty of the Berkshires, on our way home from the Divine Mercy Shrine, my friend and I discussed our recent experience. We were grateful for the many wonderful people we had met and the inspiring homilies we had heard. “How are we different?” I asked out loud. My friend was quiet in thought for awhile. “I think we are more aware of our need to trust.” she said. I thought her response was spot on. Just like my experience in Louisiana, we always become stronger when we choose to spend quality time with God.
On my retreat with Mom several years ago, I learned that we don’t always get what we pray for, but that does not mean God isn’t listening or responding. This realization has helped me to navigate some unexpected trials in my own life and still find joy. This past week, I learned that God wants me to trust in Him more often. When we surrender our struggles to God in trust, his mighty grace emerges. We are not made to fight our battles alone – we have a God who wants to take away our pain. Looking ahead, I will continue to seek an open heart and mind like my mom, in order to listen closely for the voice of God who wills our happiness and peace.