Like so many others, I had been looking forward to the relics display for weeks. But when the day finally arrived, I was anything but excited for that evening. It had been your typical cliché of a Monday- I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and it all went downhill from there. After an exhausting day of one thing going wrong after the next, the last thing I wanted was to even try to muster up the energy to go. But I had been so excited and knew I would be kicking myself later if I denied myself such an amazing opportunity. So, I fought the urge to stay home to binge-watch my latest Netflix obsession and forced myself to go.
The presentation itself was nothing short of captivating and inspiring. I had to fight back tears as visual images assaulted my minds-eye as I sat and listened to Fr. Carlos vividly recount the tragic events leading up to St. Maria Goretti’s last words and final breath. All I could picture was this innocent little girl (close in age as my own daughters) who, on her death bed and in all reality had every reason to hold on to self-pity, pain, anger, etc… but instead chose forgiveness. In those moments, she exuded more strength, courage and compassion than most people show in daily living (myself included). I couldn’t help but feel ashamed as the realization dawned that here I was, blessed with a healthy family, a roof over our heads and food on our table I had let such trivial mishaps completely dictate my whole day.
I wish I could say that revelation was all it took to flip a magic switch and it was all uphill from there. But it wasn’t. As we made our way to the activity center to view the relics it didn’t take long for all those anxious feelings I thought I had left back in the Church pew, to come rushing back to the surface. Being an introvert by nature and running on a short fuse to begin with that day, it didn’t take long for the large crowd, excessive chatter, my bickering girls and whiney 3 year old to completely overwhelm me. On the verge of a panic attack, I decided to walk the kids home and come back myself. Not knowing how late the display would run for, I was in a mad rush to get back, but much to my surprise, my keys had mysteriously disappeared and after about 10 minutes of recklessly searching only to come up empty-handed, I left even more frustrated (slammed door and all) than I was before.
Feeling completely defeated at this point, I started crying. I remember being thankful for the mask of night so passers-by couldn’t see what a complete and total mess I was. Then to top things off, the mental onslaught of verbal attacks started, offering every reason as to why I shouldn’t go back to the relics. With each reason more valid and logical than the next, it would have been so easy to just give in to my irrational annoyance that had become that day. Everything was screaming that I should just turn around and go back home to sleep it off. One low-blow in particular almost won that battle: “who are you, with all this anger, to be in a room full of so much goodness?” As if a calmer, more rational 3rd party suddenly joined the silent argument raging inside my head, the gentle words “who are you not to be there?” instantly followed that former thought.
Those words stopped me dead in my tracks and it was exactly what I needed to hear for that ‘magic switch’ to finally flip for me to see things through a different light. It finally sunk in that it’s at our darkest times that we need God’s love and mercy the most. It was in that moment that I realized it was the devil that had his grip on me that whole day, feeding me all these lies, because all those negative emotions were exactly why I needed to go back to the relics, not why I should stay away. I’m slowly learning that he attacks the hardest when we are on the verge of something good and amazing. He uses our flaws and insecurities against us to make us feel isolated. The more we learn to recognize his tricks, the less we become our own roadblocks to receiving God's love and the path of healing. So, I took a few minutes and in all of my imperfect, broken, unworthy glory, I did what I should have been doing all along, I prayed. Wholeheartedly. I renounced the darkness that had its hold on me that day. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill, heal and replace those parts of me. I prayed for the strength and courage I needed to be able to walk back through those doors and for a clear mind so I could just be present in the moment.
Once I regained my composure, I remember taking a deep breath as I opened the doors. I stepped through to see most of the crowd had left and the buzzing chatter was replaced with a soothing silence. As I exhaled in a sigh of relief, I felt this warm, deep calm wash over me and all of that stuff I was holding onto that day left with it. It felt like I could breathe easy for the first time that day. Aside from that and a strong pull to pray for a few certain individuals as I came up to a couple different relic displays, I didn’t really experience anything that felt extraordinary. I didn’t hear Church bells or feel a searing heat exude from any of the reliquaries. My right knee (which has been in chronic pain with swelling for the past several months due to an old injury) almost screamed at me as I knelt down to pray in front of the veil of Our Blessed Mother, but otherwise, I just felt at peace and found myself lingering until the very end because I didn’t want to leave. I even went home with that euphoric ‘high’ that often comes with adoration. When I got home I was also surprised to find my keys right on the counter, in plain sight, where I originally thought I left them. I think God knew I needed that time to walk back to sort through all that chaos in my head before I could fully experience the healing that came with that night!
The next morning, I woke up for the first time in months with no pain/swelling in my right knee whatsoever (which is what this article’s supposed to be about: my physical healing, because that’s all I really shared with anyone). Ironically, I don’t think I realized just how much spiritual healing I received that night until I began praying and reflecting to write about my encounter. I’m not generally an open book when it comes to personal matters of the heart like this, but Fr. Dennis recently reminded me that we must give Thanks to God for ALL the blessings He gives us. I think it would be a form of injustice if I omitted part of my experience due to fears of letting people see that side of me as a lousy attempt to preserve the façade that I don’t struggle with anger, impatience, and control just as much as the next person. Truth is, we all have bad days and we all have struggles, but not one of us can defeat them on our own. What that night taught me more than anything, is how important it is to learn to ask God for and be truly open and willing to receive His help and love. God is always there, with open arms, waiting to be invited in. And, as Fr. Carlos reminded, we can only hope to experience the Graces of His healing touch through true confession of our sins and through forgiveness. Tomorrow is always a fresh start, but you’re never too late in the day to ask for His help and turn things around.
I will be forever grateful to Fr. Carlos for blessing our community through his amazing ministry and introducing us to such an incredible 11 year old little girl that died so tragically over 100 years ago. I never would have guessed what an impact her story would have on me or how often I would find myself turning to her for strength, courage, and guidance since that ‘typical cliché of a Monday’, that will now always hold a special and positive place in my heart.
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” –Jerry Bridges