My Lenten prayer
It was just a Monday morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I’ve been there countless times in my life. Whatever’s going on in the world, even when it’s bursting at the seams every year for the annual March for Life, there is such a peace and beauty there. It’s a kind of solitude, drawing deeper into the mysteries of God.
But back to that recent Monday morning. I was there for confession, which is offered before work hours begin. As I headed toward that area, I passed by the familiar Hope Chapel, paid for by Bob Hope himself. It always makes me smile thinking of a simpler time, a more innocent culture, even if that thought may be more nostalgia than actual fact. It was certainly a more innocent time for me. A man, presumably coming out of confession, held the door for me. It was as if the angels were welcoming me to exactly where I belonged and could best start the workweek.
There was no line, and even though I had been itching to go for days, I wanted to take a few more minutes to reflect on my sins. So when a man walked in a few moments later, I motioned for him to go ahead. It was early for all of us, perhaps, and he didn’t seem to understand what I meant. We clarified, and in that brief encounter I was struck that he was the type of person who took every word of another as a treasure, because he saw the beauty of the divine image in others.
I did soon get to confession and took such solace, even in the midst of sorrow, for how in sync God was with moving my heart through the Scripture readings of the day. That’s not the stuff of coincidence but providence, a God who wants us to know he’s walking alongside us, guiding us and making progress with us if we allow it and desire it.
I saw the man again after praying for a little while near an image of Our Lady of Hope. We were waiting out the 8 a.m. Mass for the 8:30 a.m. option, benefiting from the blessing of riches you sometimes encounter in a city — many Masses, many confession hours. Our Mass was beautiful and powerful, with a thematic focus in the readings and the homily on loving God by meeting the needs of our neighbor: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). Those are searing words, calling us out of indifference, reminding us there are Calcuttas everywhere. What are we doing to meet the needs of those in front of us?
The exposition of the Eucharist happens after the 8:30 a.m. Mass on weekdays. And after a few moments, I felt a hand on my back. It was the man from the earlier exchange in the confession area.
“Pardon me, but would you humor an old man?” he asked and held out his hand to give me a beautifully carved Tau cross, so often associated with St. Francis Assisi. I asked him his name, but he replied: “That is not important. I’m just a sinner.” I explained that I wanted to pray for him. He smiled and said, “Thank you.” And he was gone.
The more I looked at the cross, I saw love — the love of Jesus on the cross and the love that man seemed to pour into making sure I would receive it. I suspected he may have carved it himself. This isn’t something you buy in bulk from a religious catalog. All I know is that he’s a brother, pointing to our brother and Savior, and made me that morning more comfortable with the cross as our home. So often we are surprised by the cross — that there’s yet another in front of us. How about just being at home with it? And as I hold it in my hand, it’s becoming a Lenten prayer, every day of the week.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).