As we walked out of the chapel where the original canvas of the Divine Mercy is kept, we were swept up into the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and into the courtyard just before our exit. The rest of the group was waiting for us at the picnic tables, so we met up with them and took a breather. The atmosphere, though fraught with the complexity of the multitudes, was peaceful and serene all the same. We knew we were on sacred ground, and Kristin–without knowing fully what she was saying–posed the thought that continues our theme of exactly what it means to make and keep a promise.
“I love this place so much. I wish there was a way we could stay here all the time!”
Oh, but there IS Kristin! Michael quickly picked up on this, and without giving her a second to react, he ran up to one of the Divine Mercy NUNS and asked her for vocation information to their order! It was absolutely hysterical, for they actually had a discernment retreat coming up very soon…and so we prodded Kristin to join up and start discerning her vocation. Fermin had already been asking -everyone- that wondrous question, “Have you thought about your vocation?” and though we jest with one another, that question really requires a sincere consideration from each one of us!
Indeed, our vocations are very much linked to our identities. “Who am I?” just as God told Moses on Mount Sinai, “I am Who I am”, we must seek to confidently embrace our BEING. After all, God IS the essence of existence! We simply must take the time to gaze into His eyes and see our own staring back at us–not as a blurry-eyed morning gaze into the mirror (that either fills us with a false sense of pride or where we often times don’t even like the face that’s staring back at us!)–but as the countenance of pure joy and childhood innocence that trusts in the Father’s LOVE for us! If only we took the time to “pretend” our lives were gloriously heading toward Heaven every day, we would come to know and confidently live with that end in mind in reality as well. “To be like children!”
Perhaps the best thing the World Youth Day organizers prepared for us then was the massive image of Divine Mercy that was made out of thousands of childish “selfies” from pilgrims all over the world. Amazingly, Sr. Caryn and Elena Rose from the Angels in Disguise here in Louisville, KY made it into the CENTER of the mosaic! That image that included our innocent and angelic representatives was put on display in the courtyard just outside the exit of the Divine Mercy Shrine, and who should be sitting there at the picnic table waiting for Divine Providence to announce his presence, but Alejandro Capote–our old friend from the “Students for Life” who traveled with us to Philadelphia when Pope Francis came to visit America! And so of course–we got a selfie / group shot with him in front of that beautiful image of Divine Mercy as the capstone to our time there!
This was our stride everyone, for we were on the top of the mountain and we only had a short landing to climb before we reached its peak and saw the great valley of the Kingdom of Heaven before us. The week had felt similar perhaps to Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem–with all the hustle and bustle, excitement filling the air with the arrival of our King, but when we arrived at the Mercy Center so we could relax and “enjoy” the Way of the Cross that evening, we were met with disappointment. It was closed. Dead. Silent.
Thus, we were going to miss the Way of the Cross completely this time. Our evening suddenly became more open and uncertain. We couldn’t get to Blonia Park again for the big ceremony, and we definitely didn’t want to fight those crowds and get home after midnight again. So, we just decided to travel to the parish nearby where Archbishop Kurtz met us a couple days before and sit down for a nice, relaxing dinner together!
Thanks to all of you, our wonderful friends and family back home, we’ve been able to encounter Christ to the full on this pilgrimage. Everything has been paid for, our lodging, our meals, our transportation, our time to reflect and grow together as brothers & sisters! Our times spent “at table” though were perhaps the most valuable moments we shared together. These were the moments where good and virtuous conversations took place, where we came to understand one another in our hopes, dreams, and yes–even our annoying idiosyncrasies!
And then…our wanderings together brought those times spent “at table” to life all the more. Just as I imagine the disciples felt with Christ as they wandered into a random courtyard full of people in need, I was overcome with joy when God’s GRACE was not finished between our pilgrim contingency and our dear friend, Mary Reding!
“John, IT’S MARY!” Sr. Caryn whispered urgently as I absentmindedly approached the statue of St. John Paul the Great in that beautiful and spontaneous courtyard just a block from where we had spent the last hour eating dinner! And sure enough, just behind that statue, The Daughters of Merciful Love were kneeling in prayer as they worked their way through the Way of the Cross.
And this time, Mary got to meet everyone in our group. This time, we even had a young man named Peter who decided to join us for that entire afternoon! It made our pilgrim contingency complete with 12 of us now, and so meeting Mary Reding (though not Christ Himself obviously) gave us a deeper understanding of how powerful the BODY OF CHRIST truly is when we embrace our given situation as the joyful design of God’s Providence. When we embrace Christ the HEAD, we encounter each other fully and without the sting of death and sin. The simple joy of sitting with Mary together as a group again gave me personally a sense of completeness that I can’t fully explain to anyone, and so I won’t.
Instead, I offer you the simple walk we shared together through Town the rest of the evening…looking for gift shops along the way and finding almost none of course. It gave us a wonderful time of reflection and peace together though, for we knew our time together was growing short. After getting Lody (Ice Cream from Heaven), we decided to keep our promise to our host parish and get home early this night.
Now, with time spent with our host families, we made sure they knew our departure and goodbye with them would be the following morning, so then–we could get some good sleep before our final push to the top.
Indeed, in the spirit of keeping our promise to our host parish and letting God work in our lives fully, we received all the joys of Divine Providence in the ways they occurred. That we were standing in front of that image at the exact moment that Alejandro would be waiting for the rest of his group to join him, that we would be told to walk in a particular direction for dinner, and then to stumble into the courtyard where Mary just happened to be praying the Way of the Cross with her community–these moments were too impossibly perfect to deny as God’s work within us.
So everyone, if you are going to make a promise to someone, you have to be ready for all the moments of tribulation, bad timing, unexpected delays, and overwhelming joys that will lead you to break or keep that promise. It requires patience, trust, fortitude, and prudence. Spiritual Direction helps as well, but in the midst of World Youth Day, maybe just having a good conversation with Fermin about your vocation will suffice!
Until we encounter the Vigil then!
In Christ, for Love & Life!
– John Sohl & the WYD 2016 Contingency