Yesterday my husband and I went to a special Mass held in the chapel of the local Seton hospital for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Mass was at Seton because it was to be the starting point for the traditional procession, in which people walk behind a priest who carries the Blessed Sacrament through the town.
On the way there I told my husband I felt bad because this event was undoubtedly going to have a low turnout. The temperature was in the high 90’s, the procession was to start around 4:00 (some of the worst heat of the day), and the church where the procession was to end was three miles away. How many people would possibly show up to walk for miles in the punishing summer sun for a religious celebration?
The answer: hundreds.
The chapel was filled beyond capacity with people packed elbow-to-elbow, and the crowd spilled out well into the lobby. There were no kneelers; everyone knelt on the hard hospital floor. There were people from all races and all ages and all walks of life, some elderly, some disabled, some pregnant, plenty of parents with babies and young children, and they were all cheerfully ready to slowly walk three miles in the summer heat, all in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.
My husband and I weren’t able to join the procession because of a scheduling conflict, but as I stood outside and watched them prepare to go, I was in awe of this event. The police escorts got in place, the ambulance that was to follow in case anyone succumbed to the heat started its lights, the Grupo Juvenil kids handed out cold bottles of water, priests and nuns scurried to help everyone organize, parents settled children into slings and strollers, and people came together to lift up large banners proclaiming messages of joy and love — there was a distinct vibe to this event, the unmistakable feeling that we were preparing for something very special.
I leaned next to a column at the hospital entrance, beholding it all as I soaked up the breeze that blew gently through the buzzing crowd. The only thing that seemed imperfect about the moment was that nobody from the hospital got a chance to see it. I scanned the parking lot for visitors coming in or out, disappointed that I didn’t see anyone. It seemed like such a shame — almost a waste — that this was not more of a high-traffic day where people coming and going from the hospital would get a glimpse of such a beautiful event. The crowd radiated the peace and love of Christ — all of these people, taking a huge chunk of time out of their Memorial Day weekend to honor God, smiling and praying in the midst of the sweltering heat — surely anyone witnessing such a gathering could not help but have their heart stir at least a little bit with feelings of joy and, perhaps most importantly, hope. I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t have sent more people in need of hope to witness this.
But it seemed that the opportunity had passed. The crowd was about to begin their long walk, and the parking lot remained still. At that moment, I happened to glance up at the main hospital building looming behind us, and my heart leapt when I saw:
The windows were filled with faces.
Some were crowded with as many people as could fit; in others, only a single person sat alone. None of them moved until the procession had left. So much of the great saga of the human experience was undoubtedly represented in those faces of the hospital patients and their loved ones, peering down at us silently from above. How I wanted to run up to each of them, to explain what was going on to those who didn’t know, to share my joy at this occasion, to welcome them all. But the thick exterior of the hospital seemed like an impenetrable fortress between us, and all I could do was pray for them. And, really, that was probably the best thing I could have done anyway.
Today it was me out on the street. It’s likely that one day the roles will be reversed, that the obscured face behind the smooth glass of a hospital window will be mine. And I pray that God will send me something like this, some little ray of light, an unmistakable sign that his hand is still at work, here in our fallen world.
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