Friday, July 16, 2010

She Wept Before the Cross

Back in the mid-to-late 1980's I saw something that seared into my heart, a scene which I will take with me to my grave. I wrote about it once before but it's been lost, so I will stammer again to describe it.

The photograph you see here is where it took place. It is a grotto in Lowell, Massachusetts, a large and authentic replication of the original apparition site at Massabielle, Lourdes, behind the old Franco-American school which has been run by nuns from at least the early 20th century. The beautiful Golgotha scene which you see stands over the city at the top of ascending steps which lead to it above the cavern. Surrounding the Lourdes grotto to this day are beautifully lit Stations of the Cross. One walks from one station to the next, leading to the stairs ascending to the Cross.

It was late at night. I had just finished work at a shelter for the homeless, and, as I sometimes did, I went there for some quiet before returning home, and maybe for some prayer. Inside the cave of the apparition to St. Bernadette is a bench and notebooks where people pen their often heart-rending prayers and hopes, sometimes for an addicted child, sometimes for a besetting sin that they are having a hard time to overcome, sometimes to pen a prayer of thanks for some grace. I was parked directly in front of the grotto and reading, maybe 25 feet away. It was somewhat dark where I was despite the light of the Stations.

Not the same shrine but very similarThe Agony

Around 1 AM, a young woman slowly walked to the front of the grotto. I think she must not have seen me or perhaps thought it was simply a parked car belonging to the school. For a few minutes she just stood before the stone altar and smaller cross on top of it inside the cave. Then suddenly she collapsed; not in illness, but in agony.

She began to cry, loudly, and apparently praying before this Holy site. I thought I shouldn't be there but was afraid to move as it might scare or embarrass her. For close to an hour I watched her on her knees, weeping, imploring in words I could not and should not even try to make out. In all my life I never saw such a prayer. This was a Gethsemane of the soul before the open-aired altar. I could see her wipe her tears intermittenly and could do nothing but try to pray with her.

I could hardly imagine what kind of convulsing pain---and faith---gripped her. Anguish over a broken relationship? Over a lost child? Mental agony of some kind? I could not know. But it reminded me of the Mary who wept and washed the feet of the Savior with her hair and tears. I could barely hold back my own. I wanted to go out and hug her and ask how I could help, but that was obviously impossible. She had come to cast it all before the cross, whatever it was. She was where she was supposed to be, and doing what the Lord and Mary wanted her to do.

After close to an hour she wiped her tears for the last time and slowly got up off her knees and the hard stone. I never expect to see such faith or love again in my life. Hers is enough. And I pray for her to this day. Doubtless the angels who watched do too.

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