Going to Calvary with the Poor
Perusing through a notebook of formation classes from early on in my religious life, I came across a class we took with †Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR in 2006 which was called “Pastoral Counseling.” Although we joked that a class with Fr. Benedict was like a fireside chat, his wisdom and insights into the human heart and mind were profound and always had a touch of his Jersey City wit and humor. Often he would jokingly say, “Don’t quote me.” But to not write down word for word what he would share would be like passing by a diamond and instead picking up a piece of quartz. For anyone who knew Fr. Benedict or heard him preach, everything he said was indeed quotable, and so much of what he said was always worth going back to reflect upon.
One part in particular stood out to me as I skimmed the notes from Fr. Benedict. He talked, as he often did, about our work with the poor. This is what I have written down in my notes, which I am presuming is what Fr. Benedict said or, at least, pretty close:
“St. Veronica is our patron saint.
Congratulations, you have volunteered to go to Calvary with the poor.
You will wipe the face of Jesus.
You will look back and be glad that you were invited to it.”
A recent encounter came to mind when I read this page in my notebook. A few weeks ago I went out for a quick errand to the mailbox. I didn’t get that far when a Hispanic woman, whom I’ll call Pia, stopped me as she was returning home from the store. She looked visibly upset and she asked me for a blessing. I told her we could say a prayer together and even though she was elderly, she insisted that she kneel. Before I knew it she was down on her knees, so I dropped to my knees right there on the sidewalk with her. We held hands and she spoke about a painful interaction she had had with her husband that morning. Interspersed throughout the short prayer I led, she ardently repeated, “amen, amen.”
I helped Pia up, and with tears in her eyes from our prayer together she asked me for a copy of the prayers for the rosary. Since I actually hadn’t made it anywhere near the mailbox, I invited her to come with me to the convent so I could look for what she wanted. We passed by the image of the Divine Mercy on the outside of our convent near the front door. I told her to wait there as I went inside. When I came back out with a rosary and a devotional prayer book, she started to cry again. I took her hand and we moved closer to the Divine Mercy image. Without any prompting on my part, she looked up at the image of Jesus and began to speak to Him from her heart. As I looked at her as she looked at Him, I felt like I had stepped onto very holy ground. She prayed so fervently and honestly to Jesus right there on the sidewalk. It seemed like she was looking at Jesus face-to-face and not just a picture of Jesus. As she poured out her heart, she repented of her sins, she spoke of her love for Him, she thanked Him for dying on the cross for her, and she repeated over and over that she didn’t deserve His love. It was then that I felt prompted to share what was rising up in my own heart. I said to her, “Pia! Jesus’ love for you is infinite and unconditional. Every time you pray the words ‘Jesus, I trust in You,’ He says back to you, ‘Pia, I love you.’” She then fell into my arms in an embrace which helped her begin to calm down.
On my way to the mailbox that day, I wiped the face of Jesus. This providential and unexpected meeting was an experience of going to Calvary with the poor, as Fr. Benedict said to us in class many years ago. And I can honestly say that I learned more about God’s mercy and love from meeting Pia one morning than from the many books I’ve read.
Jesus, I trust You.
Thank you for your love.
And thank you for Fr. Benedict, and for Pia.
Sr. Catherine Mary, CFR