I alluded earlier to some hard discernment that needed to happen on this year’s pilgrimage, relating to something that happened on last year’s pilgrimage. I’m happy (I think?!) to say that my prayer for clarity was answered, LOUDLY.
Behold, a story in seven steps.
Last year in Lourdes, on the last day of our pilgrimage, our group attended Stations of the Cross on a hill high above the Domain. I wasn’t expecting much out of the experience; we had already hit all the highlights, as far as I was concerned. Instead, the Stations completely rocked my world. I have prayed them countless times in my four decades on earth. This time, this gorgeous, sunshiny day, after the week we had just experienced… it was as if I was hearing them for the first time.
As we progressed up the steep and difficult climb, listening to each meditation that seemed to be written exactly for me, I went deeper into prayer. By the time we reached the top, I was deep in a prayerful, emotional, receptive state of mind.
During the final station, I heard a call.
And I want to roll my eyes and die a little inside when I write that, but it’s a slightly (only slightly) less obnoxious way of saying it than I “received a message” or “heard the voice of my Lord and Savior give me instructions for the entire rest of my life,” the latter of which is probably the most accurate of the three in terms of my experience of that moment.
At the fourteenth and final station, Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb by his mother and the disciples who didn’t run away in abject terror. The priest leading the meditations asked us all to turn around from the tomb hewn from the rock in front of us, to turn our gaze instead on the endless white-capped Pyrenees and infinite blue sky.
“Death does not win,” he stated simply. “Life wins.”
The world around me disappeared and was replaced by a movie of the rest of my life playing before my eyes. I heard a voice. The voice told me to go home, put my kids in full-time school, get a nursing degree, join the Order of Malta, come back to Lourdes as an annual volunteer, and spend the rest of my life working as a perinatal hospice nurse with families whose babies receive a terminal or serious prenatal diagnosis in utero.
The voice was really specific. Really, terrifically specific.
The call was so patently insane that I immediately broke down sobbing. I said out loud to my husband, “That is seriously the dumbest idea I have ever heard,” all while knowing with the final certainty of a sucker-punch to the gut that it was also the truest idea I have ever heard. There was an inevitability to it. It was A Call.
I told God that was seriously the dumbest idea I had ever heard. And also, no.
(“Hey, Jonah, how about going to Nineveh?”
“Oh, hey, God. How about I go to THE OPPOSITE OF NINEVEH instead?”)
The history of Christianity is full of examples of people who received incredibly specific, insane calls, and then were given the miraculous power to fulfill those missions. St. Joan of Arc, a teenage shepherdess leading an army to overthrow the impostor king. St. Francis, called to abandon a life of wealth and luxury and beg alms to rebuild not just the Church of San Damiano, but the very foundations of the universal church. St. Teresa of Calcutta giving up her settled life as a missionary and teacher to live instead among the poorest of the poor, thereby becoming one of the most powerful and respected women in history.
So I suspended my disbelief and thought about this really hard for a year — Think! Think! Nope, still seriously the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. I patted myself on the back for doing all this hard thinking.
Oh, and fine, I applied to join the Order of Malta and I came back to volunteer. Partial credit, amiright?
When I went back to Lourdes this year, I carried a pile of hundreds of intentions and prayers on behalf of many of you beautiful people. (Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing me to do this for you.)
For myself, I carried exactly one intention: Um, did I hear you correctly? And if so, would you please repeat that? And make it unmistakably clear? Maybe a handwritten note delivered by an angel with a trumpet who’s not too busy or something?
I shared this intention, in confidence (over moules frites), with only two people on our pilgrimage, a Knight and a Dame I know well. I asked them to pray for this intention with me. The Dame smirked and said, “Be ready.” I pooh-poohed her.
By the last day of our pilgrimage, I was having so much fun I had stopped expecting or listening for an answer. After the farewell Mass, our malades received their final blessing from our team. Just before the blessing began, I bent in front of someone — the first malade I had worked with, a man I had known exactly six days — to straighten his blanket around his legs. When I stood up, he was looking at me intently, with his head cocked to one side a little.
“So are you going to be a nurse?”
I blinked. “What did you just say to me?”
“You seem like you’d make a really good nurse. Are you going to be one?”
There was a long pause before I proceeded with caution. “Who told you to say that? Did Cynthia put you up to this?”
“The Holy Spirit.”
(“Really, Jonah. I want you to go to Nineveh. Perhaps a ride in this giant fish will be more convincing.”)
Okie-doke, then. I have spent the last two weeks researching and registering for nursing prerequisites. I am going back to school to get a nursing degree. At forty. With six kids, including one who is likely to need lifelong, full-time care.
St. Joan of Arc I am not (as I’ve mentioned before). I already told Our Lady of Lourdes she’s going to have to figure out all the details, because this is still, seriously, the dumbest idea I have ever heard.
But… I also know it’s my idea, meant for me. My spine tingles every time I think about it.
Be who you were meant to be
and you will set the world on fire.
– St. Catherine of Siena
If you have a question for God to which you’re not entirely sure you want an actual answer, definitely DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES ask a Knight or Dame of the Order of Malta to pray for you to receive an answer, and especially not while you are on pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Because I can promise you, if you do that, you will get an answer.
Hungry for some more “That time I went to Lourdes” stories?
- That time we went to Lourdes and our son was healed – Our miraculous 2017 pilgrimage
- That time I went to Lourdes and God whacked me upside the head – A.J. Cattapan, Oscar’s 2017 pod member
- That time I went to Lourdes and came home to hit rock bottom and That time I came home from Lourdes and found my Simon of Cyrene – Stephanie Engelman, fellow 2017 pilgrim
- That time I went to Lourdes and our daughter received First Communion – Our 2018 pilgrimage