While on pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy, the home-place of St. Francis, our tour guide described the importance of steeples on Francis’ journeys. The story goes, when Francis would see a steeple in the distance, he would lay facedown on the ground in the direction of the steeple and adore the precious Body of Christ, reposed in the tabernacle of that church.
At the time of hearing this story, I was rather newly re-converted to the Catholic Faith of my youth, and still coming to understand the ins and outs of Church teachings. However, this practice — showing reverence when passing a church — was not new to me. My mom — the entire side of her family tracing back its Catholic roots back over 1000 years to the conversion of the Ukraine — always crossed herself when driving by churches. Even as a kid, I did the same.
On the rides to and from my college-prep high school, in fact, I passed by a church with a huge painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the side. Every day, I would strain to catch a glimpse of the beautiful image of Mary and say, “Hi” to her.
One day, long after hearing the story about St. Francis’ devotion, I was driving by that familiar church. I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of her image. “Hi, Mama,” I whispered from my heart. In that moment, she spoke to me: “I’ve been here with you all along.”
I was a rather poorly catechized cradle-Catholic. I searched for the power of the spiritual world in New Age philosophies, incantations, and the paranormal. I was radically brought to Jesus Christ through the messages of a current-day, Marian apparition. Mary preached the Gospel to me at twenty-one! I thought of this dramatic conversion as something that happened to me in a miraculous moment in my early twenties, but, now, passing by that church for the thousandth time, she was telling me she had been with me all along.
I began to see that from that church, she had been calling to me day after day. And it mattered that I looked for her. That seemingly insignificant piece of family culture — making a sign of reverence when passing a church — could very well have been my lifeline.
Our Lady of Guadalupe was an historic event in which the Blessed Mother appeared to a Mexican man, St. Juan Diego, in 1531. She appeared pregnant and told him that she was the mother of the “true God.” She, as a tabernacle, brought Christ to the New World. This event converted 9 million Aztecs to Catholicism in only 7 years!
Through the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe — the image of the tabernacle of the true God — painted on the side of that church, she had been calling to me to look at her, so that I could see her Son.
Now, every time our family passes a church, I turn the radio or audiobook off, cross myself, and speak words of love to Jesus in front of my very young children. Even the 2-year-old now says:
“My God and my all. Thanks for waiting for us in the tabernacle, Jesus.”
Thanks for waiting for us in the tabernacle, Jesus...