Saturday, January 17, 2015

Exquisitely Beautiful

Have you ever really seen a beautiful act of repentance and conversion unfold before you? We all have our own stories, of course, but I mean getting to observe the wondrous working of grace in somebody else, either up close or from a distance?

Some time ago - many years - I noticed in my parish one day a young woman sitting in the back. She was a pretty young thing, perhaps in her early or mid twenties. She was all alone. She was pregnant, perhaps five or six months. I'd never seen her before, and we have a small church so I recognize most of the regulars. I assumed she was new and perhaps not a believer, because never went up to receive communion. She mainly kept to the very back and kind of tried to remain unnoticed, and she always left Mass immediately so there was really no chance to talk to her.

One day, maybe about a month after I first noticed her, I was returning from communion and noticed her kneeling down at the pew and weeping profusely - and I mean weeping! Her head was in her hands, face red, tears streaming down her cheeks and her body heaving with sobs. I knew those tears - the tears of penitence! Oh how beautiful are the tears elicited by God's grace! I was profoundly moved just seeing it, but of course I didn't want to intrude, so I left her alone and gave thanks to God. A lamb was being carried back on the shoulders of the shepherd. She had found the pearl of great price.

Well that girl, she returned week after week. She still sat in the back, and she still did not receive communion. But it was different; there was a contentment on her face now. She was at peace. I often saw her while I was returning from communion. She was always praying fervently, judging by the fire in her eyes and the longing in her face. I saw her now and then lingering after Mass at times as she said hello to the priest and chatted with him, so she must have made an introduction to him.

Shortly after this she began receiving Holy Communion. I never saw her name on a list of candidates or catechumens and never witnessed or heard about any profession of faith at any Mass, so I am assuming she was already a Catholic. Her trip home came not in the public profession of faith but in the quiet and solitude of the confessional.

Months went by. The time came for her to deliver her child. Now I saw her at Mass with a tiny infant. I remember praying after Mass one day and seeing her and what I assumed were her extended family in the Church for the baptism. Never seen any of them before, and frankly, some of them looked kind of uncomfortable to be there. With them was a scruffy looking guy who was apparently the father of the baby. He looked kind of...well, let's just say he clearly wasn't sure about this Catholicism thing. I don't want to go too far and infer too much from their demeanor alone, but it seemed clear that the father was there because the girl wanted it, not because he understood what baptism was. Maybe I was wrong, but I'm a pretty good judge of body language. That's about all I could tell, and I left the church so they could have their private baptism.

The child was baptized. As months went by, I noticed the man occasionally attending Mass with the girl. He still looked skeptical about the whole thing, but maybe less so as time passed. He cleaned up a bit, too, and it seemed - from what I could tell - that the man and the girl were making an effort to raise the child together. A change had come over the girl, too. I don't know how to describe it. Just a look of contentment and lightness in her character. The workings of grace made manifest.

Some time passed. Maybe months. Maybe a year. I don't remember. Eventually they had wedding rings on their fingers. I don't know when. By now I'd been noting them for over a year and a half and still had never spoken to them. But somewhere along the line they got wed. The man was also now receiving Holy Communion in the good graces of Mother Church. And the girl was pregnant again.

Beautiful, right? It gets better.

After a time, another girl starts showing up with the first one. By her appearance, I assume she is her sister. Then that girl's husband stars attending. They get pregnant. Now there's two families. I watch their kids all get older. Other kids are born.

But that's not all. Eventually their parents start coming to Mass with them, at first intermittently, but then regularly. The whole huge brood becomes regular attendees at Mass. There's like ten or twelve of them now, a whole huge family of faith, born of the tears of one lonely, scared girl who cried out to God in a moment of desperation. And look what came of it! Faith of a mustard seed, indeed!

I don't know the whole backstory. I don't know the mysterious workings of Grace. I don't know what prayers, what arguments, what must have happened to get each one of those people there. But clearly the witness of the original girl and her fiery faith and love were the center upon which everything else revolved.

It's been years now. Did I ever talk to them? No. Never a word. I was perfectly content to watch this unfold from a distance. Maybe I shall someday. It is still unfolding. But when I think back on what I saw, the little bits I witnessed, of what happened, and remember years ago watching that lonely, pregnant girl weep in the back of the Church, my God! It is one of the most exquisitely beautiful things I have ever seen in this life!

That is what grace is about. That is worth fighting for.

"You tellest all my wanderings; put thou my tears into thy bottle. Are they not in thy book?" -Psalm 56:8


Anonymous said...

This piece is really moving and poetic at the same time. Thank you for this, Boniface.


Tejs said...

"Have you ever really seen a beautiful act of repentance and conversion unfold before you?"

No. I've seen the opposite a lot, though. Ha!

Ever mindful said...

What an inspiring description, well told indeed

Anonymous said...

And of course the parish priest must have been one of those who said the 'hard things' but with love, and welcome. Barbara