Friday, September 11, 2009

There are angels that walk among us

There are angels that walk among us, disguised as humans. And I think I met one at Mount St. Macrina last weekend.

You can read about the details of what this pilgrimage is about at:

A fellow member of my church offered to share her hotel room with me if I was interested in making the pilgrimage to Mt. St. Macrina. I accepted, and make the trip with her. The three-hour trip through the mountains of Pennsylvania passed quickly, and we were soon at our destination. Once we were settled in our room, we went over to Macrina, which was just across the street. My traveling companion's brother is a priest with an eparchy in California, and we went to meet with him, and the three sisters from his parish who came with him. I interpreted that the three sisters were nuns, but they were actually biological sisters who made the trip together. They made the trip early to help the nuns of St. Basil prepare for the onslaught of approximately 5000 pilgrims from all over the world that would be descending on that mountain over the next several days.

The sister's devotion to God was apparent, as well as their love for the Blessed Virgin. You could see it in their faces as well as through their actions. One of them especially touched my heart. During the liturgy on Monday morning, there was an elderly gentleman that was having trouble standing. She helped him to his feet, and then went and made sure that a priest came to him to offer communion. It was apparent that the man wanted to try to do all of this on his own, but was unable to do so. Of anything that I witnessed over this weekend, this was the most moving site that I saw. It wasn't the procession, or the liturgies; it was watching this woman giving of herself to make sure that this man was taken care of spiritually. But I am getting ahead of myself in this story.

For the past few weeks, I've been hunting for a copy of a small Byzantine prayer book that my friend Joanne had lent to me. Hers is an old book from the 1960's. I had not been able to find a copy online anywhere. So I was very happy when I found one in the gift shop. I hoped to find some time to read it while we were there on the mountain. There was an enormous amount of people there, and trying to find some kind of solitude, even for a brief time, seemed impossible. I would have loved to have been there by myself, sitting in the chapel of the old Motherhouse, or outside at the Shrine Altar. This was probably a selfish thought, but it was how I felt.

Saturday evening's candlelight procession was very nice, but it couldn't compare to the events of the next day.

Sunday found me lighting candles for many people. I got a telephone call that morning from my husband saying that it was possible that the shingles my father in law developed two weeks ago from the cancer had spread to his eyes. I went back and lit another candle.

There was a Divine Liturgy at 4:00 that Sunday afternoon. The outside pews quickly filled up, as well as the surrounding areas behind them. My friend and I arrived early to get a good seat. There was an empty spot next to me, and a young man came and sat there. We started talking to each other, and I looked down at the book that he was holding, and it was the exact same prayer book that I had bought the previous day. I asked him about it, and he said that he bought when he was at the seminary. I thought maybe he was studying to be a priest, but he said no, that he had a family. His name was Michael, and he had a starry eyed look to him that made me think that he was new to the faith. I found out that he was actually in his ninth year of coming back to the church. I think that what I was seeing in him was someone who was totally in love with his God, and that the experiences of that weekend were touching his heart immensely. We talked about how we both hoped that we would always feel the way we did at that moment, and that we never wanted our experiences in the faith to become routine.

My new friend said that he was coming back next year, and was going to bring his family with him. I pray that I meet him again.

My traveling companion and I didn't walk the procession that evening. She decided that it would be too much on my ankle, and she was probably right. So she scouted out a good bench for us to sit and view it. We had a little bit of a wait before things were going to get started. My friend wandered off to talk to old acquaintances, and I pulled out my new little book from my purse. While I was reading, I shut out everyone and pretty much everything that was around me. But one person, who I had never met before, found her way over to me. My traveling companion and this person had a mutual bond of a priest they both knew. I put my book away. I had a feeling that this was someone who I was going to want to listen to.

This woman had something about her, different from anyone that I have ever met before. God seemed to beam from her. Her name was Mary. All of her very grown 4 daughters were named Mary with different middle names. I told her that I could trump her because I had given my daughter the exact same name as mine, Kathleen Marie. Mary's were in abundance. You could say this was an irony, but I don't think so. God surrounded me with Mary for a reason.

Mary and I talked of our faith. She asked how I came to become a Byzantine Catholic. I told her about my Chrismation, and about how much it had changed my life. While there was a human body sitting next to me, it felt like I was talking with something much more than that. She asked about my husband, and I told her about our upcoming Convalidation ceremony. She put her arm around me and said "Honey, I am so happy for you." Tears filled her eyes, and they ran down my face. This woman understood my happiness, and my heart. We talked about a lot of things that evening that I have since forgotten.

How can I tell you of that evening's procession? It was surreal. The wind picked up, and quickly turned over the leaves of the trees. These are the evenings that I wait for all year, the early beginnings of autumn. Having all this happen while up on the highest part of a mountain doubled the experience. As the evening prayer started after the procession, the moon rose over the shrine, and it was blood red. I've never seen the moon this color before.

And then, as quickly as my Mary appeared in my life, she was gone.

There are angels that walk among us, disguised as humans. And I now know that I met one at Mount St. Macrina last weekend.

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