Editor’s note: Today, we’re very happy to welcome new contributor Judy Klein to our CatholicMom.com family of contributors. Be sure to visit Judy’s beautiful blog at Memorare Ministries. We’re so happy you’re here Judy! Lisa
The first time Grace walked into the Adoration Chapel that sits beside Our Lady of the Lake Church, I was taken aback by her disheveled appearance and by the intense waft of days old grime that was evident on her body and clothing. Being a person who’s extremely sensitive to smells, my eyes watered as I sat inches from her, struggling not to let my face betray my embarrassingly fierce reaction to her odor. But what really got my attention was how Grace prayed, out loud and filter-free as she knelt before the stunning five-foot gold mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“Mary, you are so beautiful and I’m so ugly,” she mumbled, seemingly unaware that I and the other adorers in the small chapel could hear her most intimate prayers. “I love you so much, Mary,” she continued. “I don’t have any friends, but you are my friend, Mary…I love you so much.”
My heart raced as I peered unintentionally into Grace’s soul, feeling like a voyeur, wanting to cover my ears. But she continued on, unfazed by those around her. “I’ll be back to visit you this afternoon, Mary. You are so beautiful. I love you so much.”
Then off she went out the glass chapel door, making her way through the church’s front entrance, then up the right aisle to Our Lady’s altar to speak to Mary again, up close and personal.
I watched that same scene play itself out time and again over the weeks, as Grace became a fixture both in the Adoration Chapel and in the church. Her daily prayers in adoration became a litany of sorts, always including the familiar refrains: “You’re so beautiful, Mary,” and “I love you so much.”
After a while Grace began to hang around for Mass, and I could see that she was feeling more at home among our little community as daily Mass-goers began to befriend her. One day, I knew it was my turn to get to know Grace, and I walked up and introduced myself. Standing outside the chapel beside her ever-present pink bike, we carried on a conversation for all of ten minutes, and we became fast friends.
I learned that she lived with her elderly father and that she had two grown children of her own—a son and a daughter. She beamed about the fact that they both have good jobs, and that they come to visit her on weekends. She told me her life has not been easy, as most of it was spent in the now shuttered Southeast Hospital for the Mentally Ill. She moved there as a teen when she “started hearing voices,” and remained until the hospital closed its doors a couple of years ago.
I shared that I was a newlywed—that I had been widowed a few years earlier and that my new husband Mark and I had met in the Adoration Chapel. I told her about my five children, and asked her to pray for their various struggles. We exchanged a few more of life’s particulars; then I watched as she took off on her bike and rode two blocks to the lakefront to drink her Coke beside Lake Pontchartrain’s murky waters.
Grace and I have spoken many times since that day, but never without her telling me “You look so beautiful today!” before she asks, “How are your children?”
Two mornings ago I sat in the chapel praying, and Grace came in. Kneeling in front of the mosaic of Our Lady, she began to pray out loud in her customary style. But this time around, it wasn’t the sights and the smells that hit me, but what came out of Grace’s mouth that nearly knocked me over.
“Thank you Mary for my friends, Mark and Judy,” she began. “They are so cute together. I pray that you bless them and give them a happy life,” she went on. “I love you so much, Mary. Please bless my friends Mark and Judy and give them a happy life.”
As she prayed, my eyes watered full as I blinked back tears over the holy litanies of God’s beloved daughter, Grace. And I could faintly hear the Lord echoing back to her: “You are beautiful, my beloved. There is no blemish in you” (Song of Songs 4:7).
I’ve been touched by Grace. She’s beautiful; it’s true.
To Ponder: Have you been challenged to overcome your fears or move beyond your comfort zone when meeting a stranger? Have you ever been surprised and blessed by their reaction to your kindness?
Copyright 2014 Judy Klein