Last weekend on our retreat in Flagstaff, we were encouraging the teens to get involved in their community, particularly at the parish. So as a part of our retreat, we went to the church Sunday morning to give out coffee and donuts after the early mass and greet those coming to the next mass. It just so happened that it was the weekend the parish had designated to welcome and recognize new families in the parish. I was assigned to the table that had a big banner over it, saying “New Families.” After mass ended, very few people were coming over to the table. Then this one woman came up, and she started asking questions about the parish. She had very briefly said that she had left the Church and had decided to come back. I stood off to the side as a parish staff member answered all of her questions. When they were finished talking, I asked her what made her decide to come back. She told me that she works for a mortuary, and in the last several months, all of the funerals have been at the church, San Francisco de Asis. In her coming to the church for those funerals, it made her start thinking about possibly coming back. She came to mass on Easter and was profoundly touched by the homily. She said she has been back every week since, and she cries every time. At this point, she started crying. I didn’t know what to say to her, and the first thing that came to my mind was: “Welcome home.” It was clear that God had captured her heart in a way unexpected to her, so there was nothing I could say or needed to say. As I was at a loss for words, it seemed she simply needed to know she had a home here, a safe place.
As we continued to talk, she told me that she was raised Catholic, but she left the Church many years ago. She has a 12 year old daughter who was baptized but hasn’t received any other sacraments. Her daughter has expressed interest in wanting to enter the Church as well. I was so excited to hear about the ways God is moving in the hearts of this woman and her daughter. I can’t explain it, but there was something about this woman that really touched me. It struck me how sincere she was in her desire to really dive back into her faith that has been lacking for so many years. As the conversation was nearing the end, I knew I wanted to pray with her. There was this huge burden on my heart to simply pray with the woman. And although I have had many opportunities to pray with people this year, it is still very difficult for me to ask a complete stranger to pray. I fear making people uncomfortable, and I use that as an excuse so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable myself. This burden to pray, though, was one that I couldn’t ignore, so I asked her if she would be open to praying with me. Her response surprised me, as her “yes” seemed to be filled with a sigh of relief, confirming to me it was exactly what she needed. As I began praying with her, she began to sob. I don’t consider myself an eloquent prayer with beautiful words, and in the moment, I knew it wasn’t about what I was saying but it was about God being completely present between us. I was so touched by her reaction to prayer. Again, she was so sincere in her desire to pray and in her desire to be back at church. And although I cannot be certain, I would imagine that her time away made her very keenly aware of just how much she needs God. In the moment I was so thankful for the victory God has won in her heart. She also called me out in a way that I did not expect.
How often do I become complacent or take advantage of having God in my life? When we pray and attend church on a regular basis, it is easy to forget what a PRIVILEGE it is for us to pray and go to mass. I am not suggesting that we all need to be crying at every mass or during every prayer to make it more meaningful. But for this particular woman, her tears signified a sincere longing and desire for God, for mass, for the Eucharist, for prayer, for healing, for love, etc, etc. It made me realize that in times when it is easy to become complacent, I need to be sincere in my desire to know God in a deeper and more intimate way.