A guest in the parlor, I had no idea that it was actually God waiting for me.
I was hurrying home later that evening from the parish, having completed several bulletins at once. I was spent, but happy with a sense of accomplishment.
I was leaving for Krakow, Poland the next morning for the beatification of our Co-foundress. I would have to pray and pack.
My thoughts were interrupted as I entered the convent. The Sisters told me there was a young woman waiting in the parlor to see me. For one brief moment I remember thinking of my laundry, but I quickly recollected myself with the phrase that a wise Polish Mother Superior used to say to us, “A guest in the house, is God in the house.” I hurried to the parlor.
It would be an encounter I would never forget.
I did not know the woman personally, but I had once met her with another visitor at the parish office where I worked. She had apparently recalled our meeting then, and so had come to find me. A few sentences into the conversation and I realized she was a girl in serious trouble, facing an unexpected pregnancy.
Her plight filled her with anxiety, self-loathing and shame. She told me the whole sordid tale, harshly drawing down upon herself layers of bitter self-reproach and remorse, even past guilt of other mistakes. She kept saying, “I’m disgusting, I’m disgusting.”
I looked at this precious, sweet, child of God before me — crushed, broken, and desperate, and all I could feel was love, compassion, and sympathy. “Stop saying that,” I said gently. “You are certainly not disgusting, you are precious. God loves you. And the child within you, created by God, is also very precious. Thank you, thank you, for not taking this child’s life. I am proud of you for your willingness to give life to this baby. It will not be easy, dear, but you will get through this, I promise you. It will be OK. Trust me.”
She went on to tell me some dynamics of her relationship with the baby’s father, and I could see that the girl would be pretty much on her own raising this child. But I had perfect peace and certitude that God would not abandon her.
She was telling me she had even deliberately looked for a priest whom she thought would be the meanest in the diocese to go to confession about her sinfulness, expecting a scathing reproach. But to her relief and surprise, the priest had been most compassionate and fatherly. He had even reassured her that Jesus loved her. She felt comforted by that absolution and by his words. She admitted that yes, she could believe that Jesus loved her.
“Yes,” I thought, “God loves her so much and He loves this child. Our Lord will see them through, He will be with them, as would her family and the friends she mentioned.”
Things began to look brighter as she rose to leave. It might be darker outside, but the sunshine had come out in her expression. The young women left smiling, wiping her tears, apologizing for taking my time. She hugged me and thanked me profusely. “Who cares about time,” I thought, “the most important thing is the well-being of this woman and the life she carries within her.” I was so grateful to God that she had thought to come to our convent. I went to the chapel as she drove away and prayed for her, entrusting her to the Sacred Heart.
Fast forward a number of months and suddenly there we were, talking about her delivery, her beautiful baby, her happiness as a mother, her family’s joy, and the child’s approaching baptism.
I was delighted to attend, and I rushed over to her pew to catch for the first time a glimpse of this little white-clad bundle of love. The young mother looked at me with so much peace and happiness. She smiled and said, “Sister, you sit here beside me, because if it wasn’t for you, he wouldn’t be here.”
I was taken aback by that, and deeply moved. Word cannot express how grateful I was that that I could have been of help to this soul when she most needed me. It certainly wasn’t me, I realized. God puts us in the right place at the right time, according to His designs of love.
A few years passed. Once again, I found myself in church, but it was hardly a festive occasion this time for me. I was lost in my own problems and self-preoccupation. Still reeling from a rather sudden transfer from a beloved assignment, an injury and other losses at that time, I was consumed by dark thoughts, and the sense of uncertainty accompanying this turn of events. I remember that day feeling like such a failure, and I was consumed by thoughts of self-reproach that had I only responded better in some situations, maybe I would not have lost everything.
I was abruptly shaken out of my dark reverie, by movement, by running actually, and this, by a small child who had suddenly escaped and bolted from the pew behind me! I saw he was taking off up the aisle, laughing and quite mortifying his surprised mother. I sprang into action. Scooping him up from behind, I slowly turned to hand him back to his mother.
Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. It was her, the young woman from a few years back! And here was her precious child! No longer an infant, he was now about two years old.
Considering the thoughts I had just been entertaining, the meaning of this chance encounter was not lost on me.
My dark mood lifted and I was filled with a heart full of joy and overwhelming consolation.
“Look at this,” I reasoned, “I guess I wasn’t a complete failure at this parish!” Right here, right now in front of me, with the face of a cherub, was this living, breathing, and, yes, squirming little boy, actual proof that all was not in vain. God had indeed used me for some good.
Smiling, I returned the precious child to his mother’s eager arms, and as I did so, I realized something else: Not long ago, I may have been the one who counseled this young woman in a very dark moment, but today, unbeknownst to her, she and her toddler had just offered me counsel, witness, and a whole lot of the hope I most needed. If God could use me then, He would surely use me somewhere in the future. I marveled that love had seemed to have come full circle.
During the Mass that followed, it occurred to me that the love that God gives us through people and circumstances, through His word and sacraments, is His very love we need to see us through every agony; it is the divine love that never abandons.
Such Infinite Love had come that day as a guest to my house, and even to me today, the God of Love who comes to all of us, coming that we might have life, and have it to the full (cf. Jn 10:10).