Feast of St. Martha, 2016
July 29, St. Mark’s Church, Kraków
Today I was hoping above all to be able to meet up with some of my friends from home who are here also in Poland. Lo and behold, before we even got to the Mercy Centre for our morning catechesis, I heard someone calling my name—turned around and saw Ian getting off a bus! I ran and gave him a big hug. Later, taking a few brief moments in the adoration chapel, I got up to leave and felt a tap on my shoulder—Hernan! Gave him a big hug, too. In the arena, I saw Ian again—clasped hands briefly as he walked by, both grinning hugely—and then Fr. Leon, coming from confession.
After catechesis and Mass, I decided to go my own way, apart from the group—hoping to meet up with some more seminarians from home and have lunch. As usual, trying to organize something at the last minute (by text message, in a foreign country) didn’t quite work out. David and Alex were at lunch in the Jewish Quarter with their diocese; Matt Lontz was at the sanctuary of Divine Mercy; Ian and Hernan don’t have cell service here, so I have to rely on God’s merciful providence if I’m going to see them again. I asked Fr. Leon to let them know, but he didn’t answer my text. I was starting to wonder why I stayed behind at all when I found, in the arena restaurant, Leah Libresco delivering a talk along with a Dominican father! I lingered in the back—every seat in the restaurant was packed—listening to them answer questions on how to share the faith. In the end, I got to go up and meet her for just a moment—a minute, no more than that. She was genuinely happy to meet me, remembered my emails, asked how World Youth Day had been so far—”great,” I said, “exhausting. Exciting!”—she agreed, quoting Fr. Dominic, who said “that World Youth Day ever happens at all is a miracle!” We took a picture together and I told her I’d be in touch. She asked me to pray for her nephew, who just this year is entering the college seminary at Notre Dame, and she thanked me for the gift of my life and of my vocation. I closed my eyes and whispered: “Praise God.” I was deeply moved by her gratitude, her asking for my prayers (as, she said, someone “further along”). I think I may have come to take for granted that people are thankful, trust me with their prayers, give me their respect—so much so that I can become irritated when I don’t get it! But from her, it was humbling: a beautiful grace.
I left after that, trying to get directions on my phone to Old Town, but when nothing seemed to be working I quickly decided to just go and surrender myself to divine providence. A young woman at a bus stop gave me directions as to which tram I should take—I got on and was surrounded by a group from El Paso, TX, who accepted me immediately as one of their own. Later, a Benedictine from St. Meinrad’s got on the tram and I told him I was from Mt. Angel—we chatted a little about Oregon, which he said he loves, having just stayed there at the Abbey for 2 weeks!
The Texas group got off at one stop to walk to Błonia Park, so I knew we were near Old Town, but I stayed until the next one. Just as I got off, there was a torrential downpour. I started walking briskly in the direction of the city center—thinking maybe I would get a coffee, or else go pray in the basilica for a while, hoping somebody would return my messages—when I saw a sign: “RELICS OF ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX.” Immediately I crossed the street and ducked into this little archway, where I ran right into a French Carmelite friar whom I had met two days before at Czerna. We greeted one another, and then I continued into the church, where I am sitting now, marveling at the beauty of His providential love. My plans are nothing. They are like a man scribbling blindly on a page trying to compose a letter. But when I allow Him to put his hand on mine and guide each stroke!—ah! How beautiful is the result.
My father knows what I need, and so it is that he brought me here to this beautiful church
—full of pilgrims coming to venerate the relics, yet miraculously silent, with a deep and reverent spirit—this church of which I do not even know the name, but where I can sit in loving quiet with my sister, Thérèse, of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. It is yet another instance when I wanted something small—to spend an afternoon with some of my brothers, laughing, getting a bite to eat—and he gave me something big I did not even know I wanted: to spend an afternoon with one of my sisters (in the faith and, pray God, in the Order), not laughing out in the crowds, but smiling together in joyful adoration under the gaze of the Father. “Chosen … holy and beloved,” those are the words of the reading at midday prayer to describe us, His children. My God, what have I done to deserve this? (“Nothing,” comes the immediate reply, but it is said with a smile. “You are mine.”)
I am filled with wonder, speechless even, face to face with such love. I told Br. Matthias the other day that I am no longer surprised by God’s providence. That is true—because I have come to rely on it! I still so often cling to my own plans, stubbornly scribbling away and saying nothing—or perhaps stubbornly walking by the same way time after time, even though I know it leads nowhere, rather than ask for directions!—but I am learning. Br. Matthias is a good example. And so, for that matter, is Thérèse. Sweet sister! Pray for me that I may have your precious humility of heart! You always chose the least for yourself, wanting no recognition, no importance, no honors, but only to do His will with a simple heart. I want a heart as simple as yours!
Here your relics are placed right in front of the altar where the most Blessed Sacrament is exposed. You and the Lord, gazing unblinkingly into one another’s eyes, wrapped up in an embrace of perfect communion. It was all you ever wanted: “a surge of the heart—a simple look of love!” Beautiful sister—how my heart longs to share in your communion!
Last night, on a crowded bus, I met a Carmelite sister from Nazareth. She told me she lives with only four other sisters in a monastery on Mt. Carmel itself! And when I told her “che sono un candidato vocazionale con i fratelli,” her face lit up and she promised they would pray for me—would lay my name at the feet of the statue of Our Lady, there on the holy mountain! And two nights ago I met Fr. Saverio Cannistrá, the father general of the Order, a friar entirely in the Carmelite spirit: grounded, unassuming, possessed of a quiet and humble dignity. He gave me his blessing and prayed for his Lord and mine to guide me in the way of His holy will.
Lord, what words can serve to thank you? To praise you? I can only beg you to dwell in my heart, remain with me, make me all yours, conform me more to you each and every day, lead me and guide me—not just as one man leads another, at a distance, but in every action and every moment, be as close to me as if it were your hand laid on mine, writing every word I now write. Grant me more and more holy courage! Make me more and more an instrument of your mercy! Let the brilliant sunbeams of your love shine out from me NOW and ALWAYS! And let me not be ‘incurvatus in me’—but always turned out, pouring myself out in love, dying, a little at a time, in love for all those You love. I love You, Lord; you are my strength. Fiat voluntas tua in me!
Matthew Dominic of the Incarnation to Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face, this feast of St. Martha, 29 July, year of Our Lord 2016.