A few years ago, I was the emcee of a large event in my hometown Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio. As part of my involvement, I was asked to promote the concert to some local parishes during Masses. At the very last Mass, after a few weeks of offering these parish talks, Christ felt it was necessary to reveal Himself in a special way to prepare me for something I would be called to do almost seven months later.
As you can imagine, after giving the same “promotional speech” thirteen times, it becomes a little robotic and you are on automatic pilot; sad to say I was lost in my thoughts, drifting off during the noon Mass. It was in this moment, when I had lost my focus and purpose, that the Lord came to me in a way I had never experienced Him before. While I sang the “Alleluia” before the Gospel, I found myself being lost in the eyes of a small child sitting in the row in front of me. Her curly blonde hair and shocking blue eyes drew me in as she watched me sing and began to mouth the words along with me. In the beauty of that moment, I was given one of the most wonderful gifts we could ever ask for as a Child of God; her face instantly transformed into the face of Jesus Christ. This was a glorious encounter in which His eyes and loving face brought peace and awe into my heart like never before. Taken aback and shocked at the moment which only lasted seconds, I was forever changed. I was not even sure how I could tell others of this without them thinking I was crazy, including my wife who was sitting next to me. After Mass, as I greeted people, I courageously decided I would tell the girl’s mother what exactly I witnessed. With every expectation she might alert the authorities, I approached her softly and said, “I need to tell you about what happened at Mass.” I went through the whole story with her in detail, waiting for her to walk away from me like I should be committed. However, her reply to me was one of understanding as she reassured me by saying, “Oh yes, I totally understand. It happens all the time with our little Faustina, she is a special girl.” Bewildered, but at peace, I knew there was a direct gateway this little girl had to the comfort our Lord longs to offer us. After all, just her namesake relates to a saint who held such a close relationship to Christ and who prayed so fervently for His mercy to reign over all of us.
But, the story does not end here… Christ was not only revealing Himself in a special way to simply get my attention. He was actually preparing me in a unique way for a challenge I could never see coming. You see, I was invited to come back to that parish the following year to do a Confirmation presentation for ninth graders and their parents. The only difference, God knew I was not really going to be coming back to give a retreat talk at all. Fast forward to the last Sunday of February, 2012. I began to prepare the topics requested for the upcoming Confirmation evening and drafted the layout of how it would all be presented the following Sunday. What I did not know is, I would wake the next morning and see tragedy on the news unfolding at Chardon High School where three teenagers were killed and two others wounded by a troubled classmate. This was the same community I had encountered Christ through Faustina; St. Mary’s Parish was across the street from the small town’s schools. I began to wait for the call which would cancel my upcoming talk they had me booked for. Well, the phone call from their Director of Religious Education came as I thought, but not with the message I expected. Amidst the shock of what was happening, she said she had prayed for the perfect person to come and bring healing, and was reassured that when she had booked me a year prior that God had this in His plan all along.
I would spend the remainder of the week shedding many tears of sadness and humbly asking God continuously how I was worthy of being the one to help this community understand a senseless act that robbed our children of their innocence. His message back to me was simple: “Because this is what I have called you to do.” I spent each night of that week preparing for the right words and praying for the Holy Spirit to simply use me as an instrument. After a roller coaster of emotions, I gave the presentation as planned on March 4, 2012, but with a very different message from what I was originally asked to offer. The date happened to be one day after the funeral for Daniel Parmertor and two days before the funeral for Demetrius Hewlin, two students (and parishioners) who perished in the shooting. I admit at times I felt lost, hopeless and abandoned, I felt unworthy and I was scared for the first time as a presenter of my faith. I also knew I had to do what God had called me to do. During that night, we bonded as one church through tears and some spots of laughter. Ultimately we found hope in our Catholic Christian faith and knew it was only as ONE community of believers, we would drive evil from our thoughts and begin to ease our devastated hearts. I have to tell you, it’s only recently, during a moment of deep prayer, that I came to realize why the Lord presented Himself to me through little Faustina that day in Mass. His strength and resolve would be thrust into me when I was afraid, feeling unworthy and lost. He would be there with me, by my side through it all, to bring His love, mercy and grace to a community that was numb in so many ways. Christ gave me a gift for my faithfulness and I am thankful I was open enough to see Him. He offered Himself in a special way for me to experience His grace once more and gave me a foundation to lean on during personal struggle.
The Transfiguration of Christ we hear about in the Gospel is no different. Elijah and Moses were revealed to the disciples as being one with Christ while He prepared for that final journey to offer ultimate salvation for humanity. Being one with Him in deep prayer on the mountain is a fore-shadowing of the building blocks of faith that the apostles and disciples would need when their faith was tested. How many times in our lives have we been asked to do things we thought we would never be strong enough to do? I can say, with utmost certainty, that somewhere along the way, Christ presented Himself in some form, or through someone, we may have failed to recognize. He always does, in order to let us know He will be by our sides and never leave us. Just like the apostles who would feel so alone after Christ’s death, we must be aware that although we see with our eyes, we can only believe with our hearts.