I hadn't come to the church to pray. In the shuffle of cars that comes with having five drivers and not as many vehicles in the family, I was plunked there to wait for my ride. But there I was at my parish, in an unwarranted rush to the tiny chapel at the back of the church building, staring up at the golden tabernacle crowed by St. Faustina's Divine Mercy image.
I silently launched myself into my usual pre-prayer routine of inadvertently thinking of all the incomplete tasks on my to-do list and simultaneously trying to catch my breath from my always-hurried entrance.
As I tried to enter into a prayerful state, I became easily distracted. A window's reflection afforded me the view of a uniquely captivating scene.
Behind me, a stooped old woman mightily traversed the church, struggling to push a walker that seemed nearly her height. Her feathery white hair framed droopy eyes, and her pleated pants, patterned with delicate white flowers, looked small enough to fit a child.
She approached the tabernacle deliberately.
In between distracted prayers, I had been stealing glances at her out of my peripheral vision, but as she advanced closer I abandoned attempts to pray. I watched, enthralled, as she shakily parked her walker and grasped a chair. She lowered herself carefully onto the kneeler directly beneath the tabernacle.
And there she remained.
I knelt there in stunned silence. This woman was my opposite. She was a perfectly purposeful foil to abrupt, rash little me. Yet what struck me most was not her patience, prayerfulness, or contrast to me, but her steadfastness in the face of illness and old age. I was merely passing through this church, completely able to walk and kneel without difficulty or pain. She seemed almost a permanent fixture once she settled. Jesus and she were old friends.
I've seen this scene play out in dozens of churches, in many states and countries. The old woman might have been my one-time confessor whose heart stopped twice--whose multiple medical deaths did not prevent him from returning to minister the sacraments to the Church's faithful.
She might have been the ancient man with huge, fuzzy white eyebrows who never misses a daily Mass at my parish.
She might have been my grandmother, praying Rosary after Rosary to fill her days because she has the Christian hope and patience of St. Monica.
She might have been the faithful deacon at my parish who never left the church after his retirement from work and his deacon's duties, who performed as an altar server nearly until his death at 95 just a few months ago.
All these faithful and many more bind together the Body of Christ. They are the ones who, like St. Monica, pray for years for the conversion of hearts. They have been through years of heartache and turmoil. They have asked God "Why?" time and time again. They have encountered countless seemingly-unanswered prayers. They have seen children and grandchildren grow up and move out and move on from a faith that appears to them as antiquated as their parents and grandparents.
They have used crutches, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs as their slow-moving vehicles of transportation to the Eucharistic table.
Younger ones, like me, will flit and waver in faith. For all but a blessed few, it will take years until we find ourselves rooted in Christ and strengthened by the faith (Col. 2:6-7). We rely on the prayers and sacrifices the more seasoned faithful offer for us.
Their sacrifice of love sustains us.
Their example inspires us.
"I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life." -Catholic Rite of Marriage