Monday, August 16, 2010

Two Mothers and Their Sons, A Saint, and the Incredible Chapel

Our experiences draw us into closer union with God.

On a recent Saturday morning I had just returned to my pew after having received our Lord in Holy Communion. I basked in the splendor of the beauty of that moment, of having God within me, of being surrounded by people who also received our Savior, and of having my 11 year old daughter by my side. My two teen sons were on the altar, each holding a paten as our holy priests distributed the Eucharist.

While kneeling down, I looked up to take in the remarkable sight of my oldest son Andre, so elegant in his black cassock, assisting at Holy Mass by reverencing the Precious Body and Blood of our beloved Savior.

Next, I caste my gaze downward to spend a moment with God. Suddenly, without knowing why, I stopped and looked up. Immediately I realized that someone on the altar was missing.

People gathered in a circle in front of the Communion rail. I scanned the scene again as my intellect confirmed what I already knew. My son Andre was the one who was missing. I got up and rushed to my son who was lying on the floor. So many kind people from our new parish were there to help that I could only get as far as his shoes. What a moment that was as I stood by my son's feet and called out his name.

The love between a mother and son is extraordinarily powerful and oh, so beautiful. God determined that our Savior would be born of the Virgin Mary. While Jesus was being Crucified, He gave us His mother to be our Mother, too. Imagine the love that Jesus has for you, add the love of our Blessed Mother to the equation, and think for a moment how very loved you are. It's incredible.

As I called out my son's name, I experienced what I call a "parallel moment." Such moments are meant to teach us and guide us into greater Divine intimacy. I thought of Our Blessed Mother standing at Jesus' feet as He hung on the Cross. Ponder what that moment was like for Mother and Son, as they set their own agendas aside to do the Will of God, all for our benefit, all because they love us that much. They showed us that we are worth loving.

Andre regained consciousness and was helped to his seat in the altar boy section. I sat beside him and loosened his collar. What wonderful people in our new parish! Someone immediately brought a wheelchair, a nurse came to help, and I was most grateful to see Barb, the daily Mass coordinator from our former parish, who came over to help, too. It was so comforting to see someone that we knew.

People were still receiving Communion and so Andre agreed to move to the chapel. God love the boy, he refused the wheelchair and walked out under his own power, although a nurse remained by his side. Once in the chapel, the wonderful people helping us had him lay down. People brought him lollipops, lemonade, granulated sugar, and soon I was holding handfuls of candy. Everyone was so kind to us it was overwhelming. A nice woman who brought candy helped Andre remove his cassock.

There's so much more to this story, and I will share another part of it.

We had been preparing for an eight-day trip East which was to include participating in the Catholic Writer's Guild Conference and Catholic Marketing Network's International Trade Show in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. My children and I experienced tremendous persecution before embarking on this trip. One person in particular persecuted us terribly. I will call that person "Conversion," because we are praying that person is converted, soon.

What a moment, to see my son lying on the floor just before we were to embark on this trip, after he had endured opposition and persecution that targeted this trip so specifically. I was convinced that our trip would bear much fruit for God's glory, and got a glimpse of the fruit while on our trip.
St. Anthony has been so instrumental this year in our mission to encourage, inspire, and continue the faith formation of Catholics worldwide and lead souls to Christ. Our mission in particular involves instructing people that they are loved by God who has a mission for them to accomplish. Why this particular saint has taken it upon himself to be our advocate from heaven so profoundly this year remains a mystery to me, but his help has been invaluable. Thank you, St. Anthony!

Catholics faithful to the Magisterium have their work cut out for them in our culture where Satan works so hard to convince people that disobedience and pride are good things. As a result, obedient Catholics have countless opportunities to lead souls to Christ every day.

We must live in imitation of Jesus and Mary, whose example reminds us through every age that we must be obedient to God's most perfect Will.

Have you had any parallel experiences that drew you closer to God? Which saints have been your advocates this year? Have you asked the saints to help you in any of your particular needs? How has God asked you to share His love with others and lead people into greater relationship with the One who loves us immeasurably, so extraordinarily, and eternally?

Have you accepted the love of Jesus and our Blessed Mother, as well as God's mercy?

We all could benefit from doing these things more often.

Before my children and I left on our trip, I began working on an article about the life of St. Anthony. Shortly before we left, I read about a remarkable place called St. Anthony's Chapel. On a hunch, I said to my children, "Let's see where the chapel is." We discovered that the chapel is in Pittsburgh, right where we were going to stay overnight on our way to the convention in Philadelphia. There were no tours on Mondays, but there would be a tour on Tuesday, the day we would be there.

We just had to visit the chapel, and made plans to check out of our first hotel and arrive for the first tour of the day, from 1:00 - 2:00. We would embark upon the five hour drive to Valley Forge after the tour.

The front of St. Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, PA

Andre programmed our GPS, which helped us find our way to the chapel through the streets of Pittsburgh. We arrived on time for the 1:00 tour. Immediately upon entering the chapel I was absolutely taken aback. The chapel was incredibly beautiful!! I wanted to take pictures inside the chapel to share with you, but it was not allowed. Obedience trumps personal desire. So, I will attempt to paint you a picture using words instead.

A statue of St. Anthony holding the Child Jesus, atop the Chapel

The chapel consists of two sections, with rows of pews running down the length of both front and back parts. The wider back half is flanked on both sides with life-sized Stations of the Cross that had been carved out of wood. These Stations of the Cross are one of only two sets in the United States. The side and front walls of the front half of the chapel are filled with thousands of relics, all of which are documented and have been cataloged. Jesus was Present in the tabernacle resting on the altar in the front of the chapel.

My children and I stood in the back before entering, absorbing the magnificent sight before us. That moment was similar to the moment when I first saw the Grand Canyon. My thoughts on both occasions turned immediately to our Creator, Who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

We slowly and reverently entered the chapel, still awestruck. It was impossible to process all there was to see and experience. We slowly walked toward the front of the chapel while viewing the life sized Stations of the Cross in the newer back half of the chapel. Life-sized statues are so very profound, for they help make events seem more real. It was very difficult to look at the life-sized Jesus represented in the various stations and attempt to consider the indescribable suffering He endured for each one of us. We are loved so very much.

As we continued to the front, I could hardly even look at the stations anymore, there was so much spiritual sensory information to take in! Then I looked to my right anyway without knowing why, and found myself standing at Someone's feet. They were not the feet of my son, they were the feet of Mary's Son. I stood at the feet of the Son of Man, who was laying on the ground and being nailed to a cross.

There is more to this story, but I leave that for another time.

My children kept going and so I followed. We walked around the front half of the church and then took a seat in the pew to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Soon Sr. Margaret arrived to start the tour. Her explanation of the history of the Chapel, of the physician-turned-priest who had it built and was responsible for the collection of the relics, made the experience even richer. She led us around the front of the Chapel and pointed out certain relics.

I will write more about the history of this incredible Chapel later. It is a fascinating story.

Inside the chapel there are slivers from the True Cross, a piece of St. Joseph's staff, a piece of Mary's mantel, and relics of Mary Magdeline, the Apostles, and St. Therese, among so many others. Sr. Margaret pointed out relics of several saints martyred for believing in God, and also showed us St. Anthony's tooth.

The chapel has the largest collection of relics in the world outside of the Vatican. When we sat back in the pew to learn more, I realized that we were surrounded by the history of the Catholic Church. We were in the midst of the love of God manifested through the apostolate of so many of our brothers and sisters, the saints. We, too, make up the Body of Christ, and we too are called to fulfill our mission and to be saints.

It was inevitable that this joyful Catholic would once again be overcome with tears of gratitude. It was a very, very powerful visit. When Sr. Margaret said that she was going to bring us a relic of the True Cross to hold and to kiss, I cried. Oh how much we are loved and valued by God, by Jesus, by our Blessed Mother, and by the saints, who are our friends and advocates!

We budgeted an hour for our time in the chapel and left after two, still way to little time to take in and experience everything the chapel offers to souls. Sr. Margaret told us that tradition has it that one should say a prayer by the tooth of St. Anthony asking for three things. I bucked tradition and asked for eight. +

We also prayed for you while we were there.

As we were leaving, Sr. Margaret asked me some questions by the chapel steps. She was concerned about my long drive with the children to Philadelphia and the prospect of arriving there in the dark. She was so kind, so Christ-like! Most certainly working among the Blessed Sacrament and the thousands of relics does wonders for the soul. I assured her that we were called by God to visit the chapel and that He would look after us on our journey.

That's not all. To conclude this story, her final questions led to the very person who had persecuted us because of this trip! We had prayed for "Conversion" while in that most incredible chapel and then, as confirmation of what had just taken place, "Conversion's" name came up as we were leaving. Satan had used "Conversion" to persecute us so relentlessly before our trip, and yet it was during this very stop at St. Anthony's Chapel that God was at work in us when we prayed there for "Conversion's" conversion.

Catholicism is so awesome, and I LOVE being Catholic! May we never take God's magnificent love for us and our responsibility to share His love with others for granted.

Each one of us was willed into being because we are loved by God.
Each one of us is necessary in God's plan of salvation.
Embrace the apostolate God has for you.

Make it a point to visit St. Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh,
a wonderful treasure given to us
by our very, very loving God.

God is at work in you!