Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
My son and I journeyed by train to visit my daughter out in South Bend, Indiana. The train had no Wi-Fi. It is a 15-hour ride. With unlimited time, I’m afraid that, even surrounded by beauty sweeping by the window, I struggled to pull my brain out of the instant moment to really pray. Starting a Rosary on the train, I fell asleep in my seat within the first hour. However, God is very persistent. He pulls out all the stops when He wants our attention, even if it’s just for us to pray.
That evening, my son bought some M&M’s and we went to the dome car to play cards. After losing (royally), I wanted to finish my Rosary. I told my son. He pulled out the M&M’s and said, “We’ll say it together, and for each Hail Mary, you and I each get an M&M.” I laughed, but we made it through the rosary. Praying together made it more possible.
The next morning, we met up with my daughter and went to visit a friend of mine at Saint Mary’s College—a retired nun who once taught me Shakespeare. Each time I return to campus, the visits are punctuated by lunch and laughter that last long past the meal. Many of the stories we’ve told each other are ones we’ve told each other before, but it doesn’t matter. That little time feels sacred because I get to be in my friend’s presence, and I know time, whether for her or any of the rest of us, is limited.
The point re-emphasized itself as we wandered the campus and I discovered that I knew only my friend in the convent and one other teacher from my own time at the school.
My daughter went to class and my son and I started to walk over to the University of Notre Dame. We had planned to visit the grotto, but I stopped to ask a priest who maintained the priest’ cemetery where we could find the graves of my favorite professor and her husband. The priest gave us a ride on a golf cart to the cemetery, and just as we arrived, the man who kept the grounds for that cemetery came out. He remembered my friend’s service, and took us to the ground where they were buried side-by-side. I wondered at the Holy Spirit’s benevolence, bringing us to the right priest, who could bring us to the right person, who could bring us to the as-of-yet, unmarked sacred ground where my friend and her husband lay. It felt like a wave of mercy orchestrated all for my benefit.
After a run through the bookstore for necessary game day attire and some snacks, we walked to the grotto and found ourselves surrounded by actors from the Italian class who recited several cantos from Dante’s Divine Comedy. They wore red hats with gold laurels. It felt like a choir praying to God. The line of people lighting candles and touching the rock in the midst of the grotto which came from Lourdes, again revealed a petitioning crowd, a faith-filled crowd, a diverse community of believers reaching out to their God through His mother. The line of people became like a Rosary, each person a prayer.
We had one more stop before returning to Saint Mary’s to meet up with my daughter after her classes, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The whole church is a thing of absolute beauty, from the pipe organ, to the paintings on the ceiling, the stained glass, the tabernacle, the altar, all of it. However, I’d never quite known the church during my four years at Saint Mary’s, so we took some time to be tourists and soak it all in. One thing I’d never seen, was the Reliquary.
I felt overwhelmed by wonder. Notre Dame holds sufficient relics to allow for two for each day of the year, and contained the names of many saints I knew, and even more I did not. Here again, sang a huge choir of witnesses. We were ushered out of the Reliquary as another choir, those entering the Basilica for evening mass, took on the job of “pray without ceasing.”
When I finally got on the internet, I learned a family member will have to undergo chemotherapy for stage four cancer. My cousin and his family asked for prayers on the internet, and so did I. Again, I witnessed the chorus of strangers praying for the health of strangers at the behest of in some cases, a fellow stranger. But as one commented, they were asked, and so they prayed. They were asked, and they said, “Yes.”
The whole trip, people had said “Yes” to the request to serve, to pray, to help, to be present. Each crowd of witnesses, of the Church Triumphant, Church Militant and the Church suffering, revealed how each of us is a necessary part of God’s plan, and God’s body of Christ. We are all called to say “Yes,” to God as Mary did, and when we do yield, when we do say “Yes,” we become a witness to the rest of the world of how they are beloved, they are and always were part of God’s plan, and part of Christ’s body.
The whole world needed, and needs, Mary’s “Yes.” God seeks our “yes.” The world needs each of ours too. So, when you reflect on the first joyful mystery, know that the question is also put to us, to say “Yes” to God’s work in us, and be ready to be part of the swelling joyful choir of witness to the world.