With a Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm
“I’m not going in there.”
That’s what Jean said as she stood with her feet planted firmly in her tracks, at the bottom of our three-step cement “staircase” leading up to the doors of the church. She was three steps away from being inside the church (maybe four steps to actually cross the threshold). The place she was refusing to enter was Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, the church that is sandwiched between our two convents at the end of the cul-de-sac on 113th Street.
Our neighborhood here in East Harlem is full of a cast of characters (including ourselves here in the convent), and Jean certainly plays her part. Although she’s lived in the project building right on the other side of the park next to our convent for decades, she still carries with her a taste of the south where she was born. Some of the sisters call her “Miss Jean.” If it is at least 60 degrees outside and dry, we are most likely to see Jean sitting on one of the benches in the park. “That’s what we do in the south,” Jean explains, “we spend our day outside.” Many sisters walk by and engage her with a simple hello, others with a longer conversation. We have been reaching out to her for years, inviting Jean to come over to the church, but each of those invitations had been declined until Friday, June 16, 2023. Jesus had a special gift for Jean that day.
Friday, June 16, 2023 was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We held an event
at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church called “Light the Fire.” Jesus was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar for Eucharistic Adoration. A few sisters were leading beautiful music while other sisters and postulants went out in pairs of two inviting anyone and everyone into the church to light a candle at the front of the church before Jesus and to say a prayer.
One of the postulants and I made our way over to Jean in the park. That evening she was sitting with two of her friends. We greeted them, explained what was happening in the church and invited them to come and light a candle. Nilda, one of Jean’s friends, was eager and ready while Jean and the other neighbor were content to stay put, but with a little bit more encouragement, mostly from Nilda, Jean stood up with some hesitation and the four of us made our way through the park and down the sidewalk towards the church.
My heart was flooded with joy and even a bit of disbelief to be walking with Jean to the church after so many previous refusals. We kept walking but then Jean stopped dead in hertracks, and that’s when she said, “I’m not going in there. I can’t go in there.” She shared her personal reasons with us. We were so close, and I knew she was more than welcome to come in. “What do we do now?” I thought. Without a moment’s hesitation, the postulant with me held out her hand and said, “Well, Jean, let’s go in together.”
“With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,” (Psalm 136:12) the young postulant reached for Jean’s hand and together they went to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Jean left the church with a smile that lit up her whole face. Jean was a reminder to me that day that Jesus is always coming to me with His strong hand and outstretched arm to bring me to Himself. Will I be like Jean and let Him take me by the hand?