God is such a good teacher. He knows exactly what we need to learn and how we would best learn it. Sometimes the good example of His Son is enough. Sometimes a gentle correction will do. And then there are those times when He reflects our sins back to us in the harsh but truthful mirror of other people’s behavior.
In 1999, I went with my husband and some family members on a tour around Ireland. One of our stops was the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. I was relatively newly reverted at the time, and my husband was several years from having his own conversion experience. My 1999 self believed in Jesus and was on board with Mary’s role in salvation history … but I didn’t put much stock by any of those Marian apparitions. Belief in apparitions weren’t necessary for full communion with Jesus in His Church, and so many of them involved scary visions of hell and threats of divine retribution. The idea of apparitions both freaked me out and seemed kind of hokey, with their plastic statues and expensive trips to visit their sites.
So when we arrived at Knock in 1999, my behavior and my husband’s was anything but exemplary. We snickered at the name of the town, “Knock.” We rolled our eyes at the blocky architecture, at the abundance of holy water fountains, and especially at all the plastic bottles for said holy water being sold in the shrine’s gift shop. I’m pretty sure we did not bother to stay for Mass, because we were far more interested in our next pub stop.
Nineteen years passed, and in that time we became parents, and my husband became Catholic (talk about God teaching those who only respond to a smack upside the head). I became more sympathetic to devotees of Marian apparitions. I even found the idea of apparitions more credible and important; after all, as my understanding of Mary grew through the practice of the Family Rosary, it became easier to believe that our perfect, devoted Mother would take any opportunity the Father sees fit to interact with her children. So when we started planning our trip to the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland, how could we not add a stop at Knock?
We arranged it so we’d be at the shrine for Mass. We’d already been to Mass in England and France, and we loved the sense of reverence we’d experienced in both countries. It didn’t occur to us that Ireland would be any different.
Ireland was different. Different to the point that my husband and I felt scandalized.
The brand-new basilica had been built without any place for participants to kneel. People milled in and chatted with each other with no regard for the presence of Christ in the tabernacle. The homily was replaced with a motivational speech by a laywoman on some topic of communication — not on the Gospel. Once Mass began, the Rosary was inserted as mere background noise during a healing service that had been likewise inserted into the Mass — and cut short as soon as the healing service was over. The Rosary prayers, as well as the prayers of the rest of the Mass, were said in a mind-boggling rush that I’ve never experienced anywhere before — and I’m from the Philadelphia area, so I’m pretty used to fast talking!
When the final notes of the recessional hymn faded away, my husband turned wide eyes on me. We usually kneel in our pews at the end of Mass and pray the St. Michael Prayer together, but this time, my husband said, “I want us to go kneel on the first step up into the sanctuary and pray St. Michael there.”
We did so, barely able to hear our own voices over the chit-chat of the people still hanging out in the basilica.
As we left, my husband expressed his dismay and disgust at the apparent lack of reverence shown by the people there. I was about to voice my agreement when a memory came to mind of the two of us in the old Knock chapel in 1999, laughing and turning up our noses at the hokey devotions around us.
I gritted my teeth in shame. “This was our penance for how we acted the last time we were here.”
Our eyes met. I could see he felt that same shame.
The more time we spend with Our Lord, in the sacraments and in sacramentals like the Family Rosary, the more we are going to be conformed to His will for us, and the more we will be bothered by the things that bother Him. One of the promises of the Rosary is that it will destroy vice. This means we will find more things offensive. The most important thing, however, is to find in ourselves those things that offend God and, by His grace, surrender them. Our own sins also give us the opportunity to see the sins of others as they are — sinful — but also to have compassion, because we ourselves have been there, and we ourselves still have so far to go.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Think of some marks of how your spiritual life has grown over the years. When you see others making the same mistakes you have made, does that lead you to judgment or compassion?
Copyright 2018 Erin McCole Cupp